Gene Selznick to be honored Sunday |

Gene Selznick to be honored Sunday

Steve Yingling

Read any historical account of beach volleyball and it’s impossible to not learn that Gene Selznick left an indelible mark on the sport.

He was Karch Kiraly before Kiraly was even born. Some even refer to him as the “Father of Beach Volleyball.”

Selznick was instrumental in popularizing the beach game back in the 1950s and 1960s. He introduced beach players to the spike more than half a century ago and then proceeded to dominate the sport through the mid-1960s no matter who his partner was.

When his playing career winded down in 1978, it was estimated that he had captured as many as 50 open tournament titles in an era when players received no prize money.

But Selznick’s contributions to the sport didn’t end there. He continues to mentor amateur as well as professional players. In fact, in 2000, Selznick coached Misty May and Holly McPeak to a fifth-place finish in the Olympic Games in Sydney.

“He’s a pioneer. He’s done some amazing things for the sport and still is,” said Casey Jennings, one of the top players on the AVP men’s tour.

Jennings, as well as his wife of one year, Kerri Walsh, have both been coached by Selznick at one time or another.

Locally, Selznick was responsible for regularly bringing professional tournaments to Zephyr Cove in the 1990s. But he is best remembered for the time and energy that he gave to younger players in the area. He used to put on a camp each summer at Whittell High School and coached Lake Tahoe club teams as well.

Naturally, Jennings, who learned to play the game across the street from the Hyatt Regency in Incline Village, was happy to hear that the AVP plans to honor Selznick on Sunday during the final day of the four-day tournament at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa. After a nine-year hiatus from Lake Tahoe, Jennings said the return of the pro circuit to the area will make people realize that the venue is a natural fit for the AVP.

“Especially with people like Gene Selznick, who has been up here for years and years,” Jennings said. “You are gonna have a lot of people come out of the woodwork who are excited to watch it and hopefully we’ll get some new fans out of Reno and Carson City who will come.”

As more and more people realize what Selznick has done for the sport, recognition has started to catch up to his accomplishments. He was named USA Volleyball’s 75th Anniversary Men’s 1953-77 All-Era Team MVP; USA Volleyball’s 75th Anniversary Men’s 1928-87 Beach All-Era Team selection and USA Volleyball’s All-Time Great Player.

No place like home

As much as former Wolf Pack volleyball players Suzanne Stonebarger and Michelle More are considered the hometown favorites this weekend, Walsh and Jennings have their Lake Tahoe connections as well.

Walsh’s parents and Jennings’ dad own a home and condo, respectively, in Incline Village. Naturally, they have spent many summer days in the sand around Lake Tahoe.

“There’s no greater place for me. This is where I learned to play beach volleyball,” said Jennings, who has four career AVP victories and whose team is seeded fifth for this weekend’s tournament.

“We’re pumped. To come up here and play and to have all of my friends come over and my dad and brother, who still live here who are coming over, it’s exciting,”

Title would mean more than record to Walsh

Whether the Best of the Beach has been held in Honolulu or Las Vegas, it hasn’t mattered. Walsh and May-Treanor have won the past three end-of-the-season championships.

A fourth straight title will give Walsh and May-Treanor a tour record 13 titles for the season.

“I don’t know about any records, but it would be a great way to finish the season,” Walsh said. “We definitely want to finish on a high note. This kind of sets up next year, so we want to show that we’re still on top.”

When will it end

What would the AVP circuit be without Walsh? Certainly there would be a lot more opportunity for different winners from week to week.

But it appears that the women won’t find out anytime soon. Walsh is planning to stay committed to the sport for years to come.

“I love my job and challenging myself to get better,” she said. “Misty and I want to keep improving. We want to make a run for the (2008) Beijing Olympics and ultimately winning a gold medal. London isn’t too far away in 2012.

“As long as we can incorporate a family and keep progressing our lives and evolving as people, I would love to do this job until I’m like Karch, until I’m 46 and still kicking butt.”

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