USAV Leader, Advocate Joe Sharpless Passes Away

By Bill Kauffman | April 07, 2014, 7:09 p.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (April 7, 2014) – USA Volleyball is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Joseph B. Sharpless, who had earned the organization’s most prestigious Harold T. Friermood Award in 2002, on Saturday afternoon in the Phoenix area after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer.

Sharpless, 81, had been a lifelong advocate and representative for USA Volleyball and unmatched ambassador for the sport over the last six decades. Among his roles was serving on the USA Volleyball Board of Directors from 1973 to 2008 and being honored with the lifetime honorary title of vice president emeritus. Overall, he served 35 years on the Board and was its vice president for 23 years.

“There are few people in the history of USA Volleyball with as rich and varied a role in the organization, governance and direction of the sport as Joe Sharpless,” USA Volleyball CEO Doug Beal said. “The entire family of USAV offers our deepest respect and condolences to his surviving family. We will all greatly miss his wisdom, counsel, passion and commitment.”

Sharpless’ interests in volleyball reads like an encyclopedia of volleyball involvement. His history as a member of the USAV is extensive and multi-faceted. He was a region commissioner from 1965 until 1978 serving the Chesapeake Region and old Region II (served New York and New Jersey). He began officiating in 1964 and earned his National USAV Referee certification in 1967, followed with National Scorer certification in 1968. He worked numerous National tournaments until retiring both certifications in 1997.

Sharpless began as the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) representative to USA Volleyball from 1966 through 1974. He was volleyball committee chairman for both the New Jersey and Potomac Valley Associations for 16 years and served as the National AAU Volleyball Chairman for five years. Sharpless was president of the New Jersey Association and instrumental in the establishment of volleyball in the AAU Junior Olympic agenda before it became a USA Volleyball program. He was a driving force to establish USA Volleyball’s involvement in junior-age programming and the establishment of its successful Junior National Championships.

Sharpless served as the National Recreation and Parks Association Delegate to the USA Volleyball Delegate Assembly from 1981 through 1999.

In addition, Sharpless offered his expertise at the international level. He served on the volleyball games staff for the Centennial Olympic Games in 1996 and as a staff member at the FIVB World Congress that year. He was team leader on various international trips for the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Volleyball Teams.

Special Olympics International was near-and-dear to his heart. Sharpless became involved with Special Olympics in the 1980s and he became the organization’s director of volleyball operations in 1994. He was staff director for volleyball at the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games, then technical delegate at the 1999, 2003 and 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games.

“I look forward to working with the Special Olympics athletes because they are so special with the attitudes they bring to the sport,” Sharpless had been quoted as saying. “They are genuine athletes with no hidden motives. There is such a total spirit of camaraderie and support for their fellow athletes that brings me enormous enjoyment and satisfaction.”

USA Volleyball created the Joseph B. Sharpless Arbitrator’s Service Award in his honor in 2006 and he was the first recipient. Sharpless’ wife Nancy, who passed away in 1988, also was active in volleyball and the Nancy S. Sharpless Scorekeepers Emeritus Award is named in her honor.

“It is hard to imagine USA Volleyball without Joe Sharpless and his long involvement, his many leadership roles within our organization, his passion for detail, his love of the events, the regions and particularly his devotion to Special Olympics,” Beal said. “I will miss his regular calls to ‘catch up and stay informed.’ I will miss his thoughtful counsel and suggestions. I will miss his passion. I will even miss (and have for many years) his unique and often challenging to read letters hand-typed using a special script set of keys. Joe was one of a kind and USAV is so much better off for having him a part of us for so long. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy is secure.”

Sharpless was to be presented with the Harry E. Wilson Distinguished Service Award during USA Volleyball’s Boyce Banquet on May 21 in Phoenix. His other major honors include:

  • 1973 George J. Fisher Leader in Volleyball Award
  • 1979 Dr. Neville A. Booth Commissioner Award while with the Chesapeake Region
  • 1982 Edward P. Lauten Scorekeeper Award
  • 1990 Glenn G. Davies Referee Award
  • 1997 Nancy S. Sharpless Scorekeeper Emeritus Award
  • 2000 Wilbur H. Peck Referee Emeritus Award
  • 2002 Harold T. Friermood "Frier" Award
  • 2008 Karen M. Johnson Human Resources Award

The family has asked to make donations in Sharpless’ name to Special Olympics International in lieu of flowers. Donations can be sent to Special Olympics International, Sports Development and Competitions, 1133 19th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036.

“In his final years his work with the Special Olympics and his work with various sports projects absolutely completed his life circle,” said Sharpless’ daughter, Carole. “This was a cause close to his heart.”

A memorial service will be held Wednesday, April 23 at 4 p.m. MST at the Chandler Christian Church in Chandler, Ariz.

Sharpless is survived by his brother Stephen and daughter Carole.