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Nuptials at the net: love and volleyball at Big South

The marriage license has been sitting in the glove compartment of Tim Sanchez’s car for a few years, waiting around until he and his fiancee, Suzanne Fitzgerald, could find a moment to schedule a ceremony.

They both have full-time jobs, children from previous marriages, and busy lives coaching volleyball for the 14-and-under girls on one of the A5 Volleyball Club teams. Most weekends are busy with games, practice and tournaments.

Finally, instead of waiting for things to calm down, they decided to tie the knot during the single most hectic moment of the year: Big South.

Big South is a volleyball maelstrom. Some 1,300 teams converge on Atlanta from around the country, taking up 1.2 million square feet at the Georgia World Congress Center. The games go on morning, noon and night, like a never-ending artillery barrage. In the midst of this relentless shelling, Sanchez and Fitzgerald borrowed a court and said “I do.”

It started as a joke, said Sanchez, 48, of Snellville, a manager of corporate IT at QTS Data Centers. The two were constantly at games or practice, to the point where Sanchez suggested a ceremony beneath the net. “I kept saying, ‘Why don’t we just borrow a court and get married?’”

Then he casually brought the subject up to the folks at Big South. They jumped at the idea, and even kicked in a cake and some flowers. The ceremony took place Thursday night in Hall B, Court 73, at the Georgia World Congress Center, while the hall echoed with the sounds of USA Volleyball trials.

Fitzgerald, 41, lives in Marietta and teaches world literature at Walton High School, where she also coaches the Walton volleyball team. A former Marine, Fitzgerald demands military discipline from her athletes, and earns enormous affection in return. “Every single girl who has ever played for Suzanne, they will tell you that their lives were changed forever,” said Bob Westbrook, founder of A5 Volleyball Club.

Fitzgerald met Sanchez, a Navy man, on “I fell in love with her, and I fell in love with volleyball,” Sanchez said. Soon he was coaching too.

They were engaged on New Year’s Eve 2012 but continued to live 40 miles apart, which meant their relationship revolved around texting, emails, phone calls and A5 practices twice a week. Fitzgerald and Sanchez coach the same A5 team.

They will now finally share a house in Marietta, which is fine with Fitzgerald, who said, “I want to have a relationship with a real physical person, an actual human being.”

Their children (each has two) served as best man, maid of honor, ring bearer and bridesmaid. Some 50 former athletes from their various teams arrived in procession, each bringing a flower to place in a vase near the altar.

There was dancing, and cake. And then, volleyball. For the foreseeable future.

The A5 club is in the middle of its season, which runs until the end of June.

Said Westbrook: “I hope they get to take some time for their honeymoon, but I bet they won’t right now.”

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