Editor’s note: This is the third of an occasional series featuring unsung sports heroes who play important roles in the games we love to participate in and watch throughout Utah. Today’s story highlights a man who’s been a major influencer for the sport of volleyball around the state. A postmortem tribute to George Miles Jr., a youth volleyball icon who left an indelible mark on the sport before recently passing away. Send profile nominations to jody@deseretnews.com.

SALT LAKE CITY — Not all volleyball wins happen on the court. Not all losses happen there, either.

The volleyball community’s beloved George Miles Jr. was an example of both scenarios.

“He did a lot of great things for our volleyball community. He took care of kids, and did it in a great way.” — Taylorsville High volleyball coach Clint Barnes on George Miles Jr.

Volleyball’s gut-wrenching loss happened on May 28 in St. George when Miles, a giant behind the scenes of one of Utah’s up-and-coming sports, passed away at age 73 from a heart attack while doing something he loved — playing golf.

Volleyball in the Beehive State and intermountain area will never be quite the same.

Thanks to Miles’ dedication over the past four decades, however, the volleyball community in the area is stronger than it’s ever been after many on and off-the-court wins.

“He did a lot of great things for our volleyball community,” said Taylorsville High volleyball coach Clint Barnes, who’s worked closely with Miles in the AAU ranks. “He took care of kids, and did it in a great way. He did it for the love of the game, the passion of the game, and just wanted to give kids an opportunity to learn and play.”

Miles, a former University of Utah police officer, had tenures as the women’s head coach at Clearfield High and Weber State during his volleyball career. But a good chunk of his service to the sport was with the younger generation in AAU volleyball.

The growth of the sport in the state followed Miles’ passion and leadership. He resourcefully found ways to lower costs for club participation from anywhere around $1,500-$5,000 down to about $500, allowing more kids to participate. With committed volleyball lovers like his wife, Nancy, and Barnes at his side, Miles’ corner of the AAU program blossomed from about 150 members to 7,000 kids over the years.

Now kids as young as 8 are even dabbling in a flourishing beach volleyball scene that he helped establish at the grassroots level.

The overall caliber of volleyball play increased, too.

“He was a huge part of youth and adult volleyball over the years in the state of Utah,” Amanda Michaelis wrote while nominating Miles to be honored as an unsung hero in Utah sports. “He will be missed.”

Barnes marveled at how many volleyball events Miles put on and attended as a fan and in his position as the Utah AAU District Volleyball Chair. Meanwhile, Miles continued to be a devoted family man and leader and member of the Kaysville Utah South Stake in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“He loved working with the youth,” his obituary read, “whether it be helping them increase their testimonies, or helping them increase their skills in volleyball.”

If you saw a tall, silver-hair gentleman soaking up the scene at BYU, Utah or Weber State, yep, that very well could have been Miles. See a similar-looking man at fill-in-the-blank gym around the state helping to set up youth volleyball tournaments, and occasionally coach? It was probably the same man — yep, the one who also founded the Northern Utah Volleyball Academy.

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Miles was also quite the middle blocker, even in his later years. As a player, Miles traveled across the continent, playing in tournaments from the Huntsman Games in Southern Utah to the World Masters in Edmonton, Canada. He competed in the USA Volleyball Nationals with Kings Mountain Fog.

Over the years, he was also a coach, club director and referee.

Some of the touching memories shared on the Russon Mortuary tribute wall offered a glimpse at the variety of people who were positively affected by Miles over the years.

Cheryl Tye Jones credited Miles for teaching her to love volleyball on the wall. They went to the Junior National Tournament in Davis, California, back in 1980.

“George was a pioneer in Utah club volleyball,” she wrote. “He was a great mentor and a good friend. He will be deeply missed.”

“He was a huge part of youth and adult volleyball over the years in the state of Utah. He will be missed.” — Amanda Michaelis on George Miles Jr.

Another former player, Eliza Evans, wrote that Miles kindly persuaded her to return to the high school team after she’d quit twice because of health struggles. She later had a chance to coach with him and help put on his tournaments. Miles was a father figure to her. She even invited him to attend her temple sealing to her husband and daughter.

“He was such a special person in my life. I’ll always love him to pieces,” Evans wrote. “We wore the same jersey number (18) and played middle blocker, and that was (an) instant connection we shared along with a passion for volleyball.”

Krystle Hill, another former player, wrote that she’ll never forget Miles’ silent laugh. They knew they tickled his funny bone when his shoulders shook.

“It was always a challenge to see who could get him to laugh the hardest,” she wrote.

Miles’ heartfelt obituary noted the moment the volleyball magic began for Miles — and, in a roundabout way, for thousands of other people in the region. Two months after getting married and sealed to his college sweetheart in the Salt Lake Temple in 1973, Miles looked at his young bride and told her, “I think I will play a little volleyball at the YMCA.”

That turned out to be a huge win for volleyball in Utah.