“Impossible to overstate George Stepanof’s importance to beach volleyball”

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George Stepanof awards the 1981 Ocean Beach Open trophies to Sinjin Smith and Karch Kiraly, with Queen JoAnn Janc presiding.

It’s hard to imagine beach volleyball in San Diego without California Beach Volleyball Association tournament director George Stepanof, who retired in December at 80.

Stepanof, who not only ran tournaments for more than half a century, created the rulebook and the ratings system that are still used today, and was one of the organizers of the Mexico Classic, at one time believed to be the largest volleyball tournament in the world.

George Stepanof announces the playoff pairings for the 2015 Mexico Classic/Ed Chan, VBshots.com
George Stepanof announces the playoff pairings for the 2015 Mexico Classic/Ed Chan, VBshots.com

Stepanof wants to spend more time with Arlene, his wife of 60 years, who helped him take registrations at tournaments in the early years.

“Volleyball kind of gets under your skin,” Stepanof said. “You get so interested in it, you want to play it.  It’s such a great sport to play on the beach, you don’t usually get hurt on the beach. On that hard surface, you sometimes sprain ankles, and you bang up your knees, but on the sand, it’s great. It’s great exercise, and it keeps you healthy.”

Stepanof began playing in 1955 at a pickup game at the beach. Shortly thereafter, he assisted Bob Mann in his tournaments in San Diego’s Mission Beach, and soon began organizing tournaments at San Diego’s Ocean Beach. He served as chairman of the rules committee since the late 1960s.

In 1973, Jack Elliott started having a small draw tournament for friends, and invited Stepanof. Stepanof and founder Mike Brown grew the tournament into the Mexico Classic, a draw tournament where individuals are assigned partners by the tournament organizers. The tournament grew rapidly, and at its peak was believed to be the biggest tournament in the world at that time with 839 teams.

George Stepanof ran the 1983 Jose Cuervo Open in Ocean Beach, San Diego.
George Stepanof ran the 1983 Jose Cuervo Open in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

“It’s impossible to overstate George Stepanof’s importance to the CBVA and the sport of beach volleyball,” CBVA president Chris Brown said. “ He was one of the founding fathers of the CBVA, along with other titans of the game like Charlie Saikley, Gene Popko and Mike Cook.

“Among his litany of contributions to the sport, George literally wrote beach volleyball’s first rule book and was instrumental in creating the CBVA rating system (AAA, AA, etc.) which has been adopted by most other beach volleyball organizations.

“He has run tournaments in San Diego since the 1950s and has never missed a tournament. On a personal note, I feel very lucky to call George a mentor and friend. Our sport has benefited tremendously from his steady hand and he will be sorely missed.”

CBVA Tournament Director George Stepanof at his CBVA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 1992.
CBVA tournament director George Stepanof at his CBVA Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1992.

Stepanof was also the chairman of the CBVA Hall of Fame, and was inducted in 1992 to recognize his lifetime of contributions.

“I love the guy, just a humble guy.” said Kevin Cleary, a former president of the AVP, CBVA tournament director, and member of the CBVA Board of Directors. “I can’t think of too many guys that have been around the volleyball scene as long as George has. He ran one of the very first open events ever, and everyone else that was running tournaments at that time has been gone for a while.

“He is our sounding board whenever we need a historical perspective on any rule or procedural changes. He is an invaluable source to the CBVA. We’re going to miss him.”

Stepanof, also a retired battalion chief for the fire department,  retired to make way for Steve Upp, who has been assisting Stepanof for more than 40 years. Stepanof once joked at a CBVA board meeting that Upp “has been helping me for over 40 years, a couple more and he’ll have it down pat.”

George Stepanof awards the 1984 San Diego Open trophies to Andrew Smith (right) and Dane Selznick (left).
George Stepanof awards the 1984 San Diego Open trophies to Andrew Smith (right) and Dane Selznick (left).

Stepanof’s legacy lives on in two additional generations of players: his sons Scott, a AAA-rated player who earned MVP honors when he played in the high school county playoffs; Tom, who was awarded a volleyball scholarship at USIU; and Rick, who competed for Puerto Rico in FIVB competition. His 16-year-old granddaughter Camille was the team captain at Bishop HS, earned her AAA at 16, and is now a member of the Cal Berkeley beach team.

Stepanof said he will likely stay involved with the sport.

“I have grandsons playing now at Point Loma High,” he said. “I’ll probably watch them and Camille. I may still help Steve (Upp) occasionally and make trophies. Will probably still help with the Polar Bear tournament.”

7 COMMENTS

  1. Besides running tournaments, George was a damn good player for many years from the South Mission Beach clique of players in it’s apex in the 60s. He got an early AAA rating and although he wasn’t a power player he was very tactical and taught me that ball control was more important than hitting straight down. He is one of the really humble and nice guys from beach volleyball history.

  2. Thanks for this article Ed. George is a legend… just don’t tell him I said so. His knowledge and wit will be greatly missed at the MEX volleyball tourney.

  3. George is an amazing human being . . . husband, father, beach volleyball player, and a mentor to thousands of players to follow him. I know he was a mentor for me, and so humble, he probably didn’t even know it . . . absolutely one of my favorite people on the planet!

  4. Love this tribute! And love George! Although I don’t think retirement will stop him – if he’s able, he’ll be at the beach helping out and enjoying the volleyball. At least I hope he will!

  5. George is like a fabulous as a father, husband. I have studied of his life and I am surprised about his simple life. I am a fan of George. I will miss when he took retirement and her positions never fulfilled. I’m glad to read the article about him. But want to remark on some general things. thanks to the author for published this article

  6. George was always the guy in the room that everyone got quiet and listened to at California Beach Volleyball Director’s meetings. Sinjin S, Randy S, Dane Z, Kevin C, Ed R, and other legends & players all listened intently when George spoke and for good reason. I always enjoyed seeing he and Arlene on the patio in Estero Beach the night before the Mex tournament, having a cold one, the big draw finished and posted, ready for another amazing volleyball experience. The best thing I can do to honor George and Arlene is pay it forward and try and run great tournaments too. See you on the sand!

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