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Sportsman

My Sportsman: Karch Kiraly

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

The players-only tent at AVP Tour events is a nice perk for those who make a living playing volleyball on the beach. There are comfortable chairs and couches, complimentary sandwiches and nutritional bars, ample protection from the elements, and perfect sight lines to enjoy the bathing suit-clad scenery.

By all accounts, the tent is the place to be on the AVP Tour. But for much of the summer, this players-only sanctuary was a ghost town.

Charles Frederick Kiraly is the reason for that. The volleyball legend better known as Karch announced last March that the 2007 season would be his last on the AVP Tour. For the eight tournaments his balky calf allowed him to play, his fellow players abandoned the tent to join the fans. They crowded courts to watch my Sportsman of the Year selection ply his trade one final time.

At 47, Kiraly is closer to collecting social security than he is to the drinking age. He won his first Olympic volleyball medal at 23, his second at 27, his third at 35. In a career spanning four decades, Kiraly has won a record 148 pro beach tournaments, the last victory coming in 2005 at age 44. "Baseball has Ruth and Mantle, basketball has Jordan, golf has Tiger and Nicklaus and we got Karch," says AVP star Mike Lambert.

While this summer served as Kiraly's farewell tour -- at the event in Boston, he was presented with a pink rocking chair, a nod to his ubiquitous hat -- he still had unfinished business on the court. After finishing no better than fifth and as low as 17th in 2006, Kiraly partnered with Kevin Wong this season and the duo placed in the top 5 five times, including a memorable win over top-ranked Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers en route to a runner-up finish at Tampa in June.

The Tampa event was the perfect microcosm of Kiraly's impact on the sport. He arrived in the city the day before the event to host a clinic for a group of adult men. That same group sat courtside the next day, offering Kiraly career advice with chants of "One more year!" That night, Kiraly hopped in his rental car and drove an hour to the coast to sign autographs for 150 kids and parents at a local club tournament.

Teaching volleyball, playing volleyball and talking volleyball. That's how Kiraly spent the final season of his pro career, and it's how he plans to spend his retirement. The teaching will take place at the Karch Kiraly Volleyball Academy, a five-day camp for high school girls hosted by Kiraly and a who's who of volleyball legends. The talking part will be providing color commentary on Fox Sports Net and ESPNU. As for playing, Kiraly will likely settle for his wife Janna's weekly recreational foursome or entering father-son events with his two teenagers, Kristian and Kory.

The AVP says Kiraly will always be welcome at any of its events next season, and he'll need to get there early to find a spot in the players-only tent. In 2008 and beyond, it's going to be a little more crowded.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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