Every May, just when it seems the high season's winding down, the Puerto Vallarta Manzana-AGA International Sports Classic invigorates the town, uplifting the spirits of young and old alike with good clean fun for everyone.

The brainchild of former Olympic basketball champion Howard Kelsey, a Canadian entrepreneur living in Guadalajara, "It promotes a healthy lifestyle by getting kids hooked on sports instead of less admirable pursuits," he says. "And it gives them great role models they can see live, at no cost. It's a sports buffet, a giant party on the beach."

It all started in 1993, when Kelsey, who played 11 years for Canada's national basketball team, had a lot of buddies eager to visit Mexico and have a tournament on the beach. So he arranged it. They stayed at the Sheraton and played right across the street at the municipal stadium, starting an annual tradition that now involves about 2,000 visitors and locals, many of whom party during the event at Carlos O'Brian's. "That first year we were short players, so O'Brian's filled out the teams with their staff. And to this day, along with Christine Club, it's party central."

Now, more than 2,000 athletes are expected to participate, ranging from former Olympians to local school children. Whether of professional- or recreational-level skill, you can bring your own team or be added to one by the organizers, who place you according to competence.

The kind of people who participate are not glory or status seekers, but play their favorite sport for the sheer joy of it, the thrill of the game, and the empowering camaraderie here. The only money award is for pro-beach volleyball, the others receiving trophies or promotional items.

Events include men's and women's basketball and softball, pro-beach volleyball, aerobics, tennis, 5k and 10k runs, and youth and master's soccer.

While each sport has its own director, Kelsey and co-chair Gemma Garciarce, owner of the home base Sheraton resort, oversee everything. "The Sheraton is the logical venue for the event, with its ideal location and internationally recognized name. Management goes out of its way to help sports teams and does an excellent job of taking care of guests. The Buenaventura is also very involved and supportive, as is the Holiday Inn."

The event is carefully timed - just after the hotel rates go down and just before the rainy season - so the weather is perfect and the cost low.