Beach volleyball legend Gene Selznick, an eight-time champion of the Santa Barbara Open, passed away Sunday at the age of 82.
Selznick died at Kindred Hospital in Los Angeles after a series of health issues culminating in pneumonia, his son, Dane, told The Associated Press.
Selznick, a volleyball Hall of Famer, is considered one of the pioneers of the beach doubles game. He won 38 open tournaments in a career that started in the late 1940s. He is the winningest individual player of the Santa Barbara Open, capturing eight titles at East Beach, including six in a row from 1957 to 1965. His first title was in 1953. He finished runner-up four times. His son, Dane, won the tournament in 1981.
In a 1969 story on beach volleyball in the Los Angeles Times, writer Patrick McNulty wrote: “There are still (Will Rogers) State Beach hangers-on who are convinced the recent oil seepage off Santa Barbara resulted from reverberations from Selznick cannon shots pounded into the sand.”
Selznick returned to East Beach two years ago to attend the dedication of a court to Santa Barbara beach volleyball legend Henry Bergmann.
Santa Barbara’s 2008 Olympic beach volleyball champion Todd Rogers told the Associated Press he learned about Selznick from books and saw him at tournaments.
“He was one of the legends and pioneers of beach volleyball,” Rogers said. “His passing is a sad day for everyone who has been and is involved in the game of beach volleyball.”
Selznick was involved in Olympic beach volleyball. In 1996 (the sport’s debut), he coached the team of Sinjin Smith and Carl Henkel for the Atlanta Olympics — won by Santa Barbara’s Karch Kiraly and Kent Steffes — and worked with Misty May-Treanor and Holly McPeak for the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia.
“The first time I met him, to be honest, he really rubbed me the wrong way,” McPeak told Sports Illustrated. “He told me how bad I was and that I could really use some work. But as soon as I let him into my life, he was a great confidant and a great friend and really helped me.”
Randy Stoklos, who ranks third all-time in beach volleyball titles with 122 overall, remembers the first time he saw Selznick at State Beach in 1975.
“I was a kid, 14 years old,” Stoklos told Presidio Sports in an email. “I noticed this man of some size on A court. It seemed that he was having a good time playing and definitely the center of attraction. As he goes back to serve, I notice he is standing on the left side of the court as the other team gets ready to receive his serve. He serves a round-house serve down the line and the opposition does not even move for the ball — ace, right on the line. Then he goes back to serve again and serves another round-house but this time cross court, and again, ace.
“Now is about the time I go to myself, ‘Who is this guy!’ As it turned out it was Gene Selznick, the first man in the United States to be named to the all-world team. Anyone who knew him would say he was one of the best and anyone who was touched by him was very lucky. I knew Gene from that day and what he gave to me was the entertainer’s approach to wow the crowd by what he could do with the ball and then have fun off the court like no else.”
Stoklos added: “Gene is one of our founding fathers of beach volleyball and will be very much missed.”
Selznick also excelled at the indoor game. He was captain of the U.S. men’s national volleyball team from 1953 to 1967, and his teams won world championships in 1960 and 1966.
Selznick was inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame in 1988.
According to his Hall of Fame biography, he introduced basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain to volleyball when they went on a barnstorming tour together in the 1970s.
“Gene’s accomplishments are legendary and he was truly someone who became larger than life,” USA Volleyball Chief Executive Doug Beal said in a statement. “He was innovative, creative, stubborn, dogmatic, visionary and enormously influential. His mark on the sport will last for as long as most of us will know, and we have truly lost a significant portion of our history.”
Selznick is survived by his sons Dane, Bob and Jack; and a grandson, Shane.
Story includes information from the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated