July 11, 2002
Former UCLA volleyball Olympian and All-American Kirk Kilgour died Wednesday night in Denver. Kilgour had been in failing health for more than a year. He was 54.
Recruited by Coach Al Scates in the late 60s, Kilgour transferred from Bellevue (WA) Community College in 1968 to UCLA, and rose to prominence as one of the greatest volleyball players of his era.
He played on UCLA's first two NCAA championship teams in 1970 and '71, earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the 1971 NCAA Tournament.
"Kirk was the first great NCAA player who could attack from anywhere on the court," said Scates, the Bruins' coach for 41 years. "He was an explosive player, who raised his teammates' level of play."
With Kilgour as the main focus of UCLA's offensive attack, the Bruins posted records of 24-1 in 1970 and 29-1 in 1971. Overall, Kilgour, a three-time All-American, led UCLA to a record of 80-5 in three seasons.
A tradition was born. Over the next four decades, UCLA men's volleyball captured 18 NCAA championships, 24 league titles and developed more than 50 All-Americans.
"I am saddened to hear of Kirk's death. He was a truly talented and fierce competitor," said UCLA Women's Volleyball Coach Andy Banachowski. "That spirit never left him. His impact on UCLA volleyball and all who knew him will be missed."
In 1972 Kilgour earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Volleyball Team. He also represented the United States in two Pan American and World Championship tournaments, and was a member of the U.S. National Team for eight years (1968-75).
In 1974, he became the first American to play in the First Division of the Italian Professional Volleyball League. He served as a player-coach of the Ariccia Volley Club from 1974-76, and led the team to a pair of Italian League Championships. He was named First-Team All-Italian League twice, and earned the league's Most Valuable Player honors in 1975.
On January 8, 1976, Kilgour survived a life-altering injury. While training with the Italian National Team, he bruised his spinal cord in a training accident. He remained a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. Although the injury ended his athletic career, he refused to let it diminish his enthusiasm for volleyball or his career aspirations.
"I had two choices [after the accident]," Kilgour said years later, "I could feel sorry for myself or I could do something positive with my life. I left any feelings of self-pity I had behind me."
He began an amazing career as a volleyball coach, sports broadcaster, actor, writer, producer, disability consultant and motivational speaker.
As head coach at Pepperdine from 1979-81, he led the Waves to an overall record of 38-31. He was an assistant coach for the Waves when they won the 1985 NCAA title. He coached five players who eventually earned gold medals in the 1984 and '88 Olympics.
In 1984, he was voted a charter member of the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame, joining, among other Bruin legends, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Wooden and Gary Beban as the Hall's first inductees.
As a sports broadcaster he worked for every major network and cable outlet, and served as a color analyst and interviewer for Olympic volleyball telecasts in 1984, '92 and '96. In addition, he appeared on numerous telecasts for ABC's "Wide World of Sports", the NCAA Volleyball Championships, professional beach volleyball events and Italian Professional League matches.
He was featured on dozens of network and local television and radio shows, and in a wide range of magazines and newspapers, including "Entertainment Tonight," "Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt," the "Today Show," Sports Illustrated, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and many major Italian publications.
Among his special awards and honors, he received The Presidential Letter of Merit for service to the community, recognition from the U.S. House of Representatives for community service and recognition from the California State Senate for "lifelong dedication on behalf of individuals with developmental disabilities."
In 1986, his No.13 jersey became the first UCLA volleyball uniform to be retired. He is a member of the Helms Athletic Hall of Fame (1978) and the California Beach Volleyball Assn. Hall of Fame (1994). In 1997 he was selected as one of the Legends of Beach Volleyball.
"All those years he was in that [wheel] chair," said Scates, "his attitude was so positive. He inspired so many people who needed help."
Kirk Douglas Kilgour was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 28, 1947, and raised in Manhattan Beach, where he graduated from Mira Costa High School. He earned all-league honors in basketball and competed in baseball and track and field. He also played beach volleyball and received his AAA rating in 1968. He earned his AA degree in 1968 from Bellevue CC, where served as captain of the school's first state championship basketball team and earned the State of Washington's Defensive Player of the Year and All-State honors.
At UCLA, he was a member and president of Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity. He received his BA in Psychology from UCLA in 1972.
Kirk is survived by his fiancee Belinda Begley and her sons Sean and Danny Virnichand daughter Mary Virnich, all of Denver; his mother Bonnie, a sister Karen Sutter, anda niece Staci Sutter, allof Saratoga, CA; a nephew Scott Sutter and grand nephew Jackson Kirk of Scotts Valley, CA.
A celebration of Kirk Kilgour's life will be planned in Southern California for the near future.