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Byron Shewman, an Aztecs volleyball great with a heart for humanitarianism, dies at 76

By JOHN MAFFEI, 08/23/23, 9:15AM PDT


“People say living a valuable life is about how many people you touch and affect. By that measure, he had an extremely valuable life.”

Byron Shewman, a standout athlete at Mar Vista High School and Southwestern College and a member of the USA Men's National Volleyball Team, died late on a stormy Sunday night after a long battle with Alzheimer's. He was 76. 

A San Diego State graduate, Shewman was a member of the national team from 1971-75 and played professionally in the IV A Professional League and in Europe before retiring as a player. 
Perhaps his biggest contribution to the sport, however, was founding the nonprofit Starlings Volleyball Club with two-time U.S. Olympian Kim Oden in 1996. The idea was to make the sport available to girls 10-18 of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

The pair started with one team - Lincoln High. From that, the Starlings has grown to one of the largest youth volleyball clubs in the nation. The club now operates in 27 states and 50 cities across the country; more than 3,300 kids participate. 

Since its inception, more than 300 Starlings have gone on to play college volleyball. 

"Without Byron's passion and dedication to bring club volleyball to underserved communities, the hundreds and hundreds of girls across the nation, on Native American reservations and in Mexico might never have been able to play this great sport on the club level," said Oden, who has been chair of the Starlings' board since 2019.

"Byron had a big heart and wasn't afraid to take action when he saw a need. What a great example of a caring human being. 

"His legacy is significant, and I will miss him." 

Duncan McFarland, the star of the men's volleyball team at San Diego State in 1973 - still the Aztecs' only national champion in any sport - played with Shewman on the national team. The two were great friends. 

"Byron lived a colorful and sometimes a stormy life," McFarland said. "His legacy of founding the Starlings with Kim Oden is exceptional, and was instrumental in creating opportunities for thousands of young girls. 

"Regular volleyball clubs were far too expensive for many, so they created Starlings with a shockingly low budget. The Starlings are all that's good about changing lives. 

"Byron was a fascinating guy, part genius. When I told my daughter about Byron's passing, she replied, 'He got caught in a hurricane swell. '" 

Over the years, volleyball greats such as McFarland, Karch Kiraly, Don Patterson, Todd Bruckner and the late Jack Henn, coach of San Diego State's 1973 NCAA champions, helped raise money and awareness for the Starlings. 

Ken Rutan played baseball at San Diego State, but became involved with Shewman and the Starlings when he was looking for a volleyball club for his daughter. 

"Growing up in the same small, low-income beach town of Imperial Beach, and being an athlete at Mar Vista High, Byron was 10 years my senior. I admired him as a youth," said Rutan, who is now a club director for the Starlings. "Making the men's national volleyball team and playing professionally, he had made it. 

"Seeing that gave me encouragement that I could also be a collegiate student-athlete. In addition to the thousands of girls that have played and will play for the Starlings, the program has also positively affected the club directors and coaches. As with many others, Byron had a huge impact on my life." 

Shewman organized support for orphanages in Mexico and participated in food drives. In 2010, he helped bring medical relief to victims of a devastating earthquake in Haiti. 

He spoke fluent Spanish and French, which helped him greatly in international causes. 

He wrote several books, including "The Sand Man" and "Volleyball Centennial - The First 100 Years." 

In 2018, he was inducted into the Southern California Indoor Volleyball Hall of Fame. 

"Byron had this sense of right and wrong that was unbelievably admirable," said Doug Beal, head coach of the 1984 U.S. Men's Volleyball Olympic gold medal team and former CEO of USA Volleyball. "So many people would agree with what he thought, then go on with their lives, and he would stop whatever he was doing in his life and act on it. 

"He always thought, 'Somebody needs to do this. I'm going to do it.' 

"People say living a valuable life is about how many people you touch and affect. By that measure, he had an extremely valuable life." 

Shewman leaves behind his son Blake and two grandchildren.