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Opinion: R.I.P. to San Diego legend George Stepanof, 'godfather' of beach volleyball

San Diego Union Tribune logo San Diego Union Tribune 2/27/2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board
George Stepanof in 1998. (Courtesy Stepanof family) © (Courtesy Stepanof family) George Stepanof in 1998. (Courtesy Stepanof family)

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Whether beach volleyball began in Waikiki around 1915 or Santa Monica in the 1920s is a matter of historical dispute, but there is no question the modern version with two-person teams was born and refined in Southern California, where it became an indelible part of beach culture. In 1974, San Diego hosted the first corporate-sponsored two-person volleyball tournament, foreshadowing the sport’s rise, with professional leagues on four continents in the 1980s and an Olympic debut in 1996.

Much credit for the sport’s explosive growth goes to former San Diego firefighter and local beach volleyball legend George Stepanof, who died Feb. 8 at age 84. Stepanof wrote the basic rules and created the player ranking system that remain in broad use.

He was elected to the California Beach Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1992, and when he retired in 2016 after five decades of running local tournaments, California Beach Volleyball Association President Chris Brown said it was “impossible to overstate” his importance to the sport. Fellow local volleyball legend Steve Upp called him the “godfather” of it.

Stepanof’s wife, Arlene, said a memorial will be held this year, assuming pandemic restrictions are lifted. That he will bring the community together after a lifetime of doing it is a fitting final set for him.

This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.

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