Famed Ocean Beach volleyball legend dies
Published - 02/24/21 - 08:00 AM | 5575 views | 0 0 comments | 45 45 recommendations | email to a friend | print
George Stepanof was inducted into the California Beach Volleyball Association's Hall of Fame in 1992. He organized tournaments for more than 50 years.
George Stepanof was inducted into the California Beach Volleyball Association's Hall of Fame in 1992. He organized tournaments for more than 50 years.
George Stepanof, who died early this month at the age of 84, was a man of professionalism and passion. 

In his profession, he was a San Diego firefighter who rose to the rank of battalion chief, and his passions included being a beach volleyball player and tournament organizer, husband, father, and grandfather.

As a teenager in 1955, Stepanof, a recent graduate of Kearny High School, discovered the beach volleyball game one day while at Mission Beach and he was hooked.

During his lifetime, he is credited with creating not only the first official beach volleyball rule book but also the classification system that divides players by level of skill from A to AAA.

He managed the annual Mexican Classic in both Estero and Rosarito beaches, Baja California, believed to be the largest two-man international tournament in the world, that once drew 839 teams.

Soon after discovering the beach volleyball game, Stepanof married his love Arlene and the pair were together 63 years until his death, living in a home on Brighton Avenue in Ocean Beach where they raised three sons, Scott (PLHS 1976), Tom (PLHS 1977) and Rick (PLHS 1979), all Pointer volleyball players. 

Stepanof bought the poles and, along with friends, constructed the beach volleyball courts still in use at the foot of Brighton Street. He played there regularly and, for 50 years organized tournaments until he retired at the age of 80. He is an Ocean Beach icon.

“It’s impossible to overstate George Stepanof’s importance to the California Beach Volleyball Association (CVBA) and the sport of beach volleyball,” former CBVA president Chris Brown said. "He was one of the founding fathers of the CBVA and he has run tournaments in San Diego since the 1950s and never missed a tournament."

Stepanof was elected to the CBVA Hall of Fame in 1992 to recognize his lifetime of contributions.

 One of his biggest local tournaments was sponsored by Jose Cuervo Gold tequila and drew throngs of spectators to watch the competition on the sands of Ocean Beach. Sponsors erected a huge inflated tequila bottle near the courts as spectators enjoyed the intense competition.

Arlene Stepanof noted that when tournaments were held at Brighton Street, a loyal crew of Ocean Beach regulars helped Stepanof set up the site, put up the nets, and stayed afterward to clean up.

Sometimes tournament planning was difficult she recalled.

"Years ago, guys drinking in a bar would decide at 2 a.m. to enter a tournament starting later that day and they would call us at home. George would have to re-do the entire tournament boards," she recalled with a laugh. "But putting on the tournaments was the love of his life." 

Jim Joniaux (PLHS 1968) was already a volleyball player when he moved in next door to the Stepanofs and became close friends with the family.

"George was a legend and could do anything including building and fixing things," Joniaux said. "He was a mentor to me. He excelled in every sport and his trophy case could fill an entire house."

Of Stepanof's sons, Scott and Tom are retired Coronado firefighters while Rick is a geologist in Puerto Rico. Two of Stepanof's grandsons also played volleyball for the Pointers and a granddaughter played at Bishop's before joining the UC Berkeley team.

Arlene Stepanof noted the irony when George experienced a medical emergency while driving through Liberty Station.

First on the scene were firefighters from Station 20, the station where he was a captain until his promotion to Battalion Chief. Efforts to revive him were made at the scene and UCSD Medical Center.

She is hoping to have a life celebration for her husband in the future but is so grateful for the support she has received already.

"I have such a large support group," Arlene noted. "I am so fortunate."


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