Handball legend Bill Peoples dies

The Mining City has lost a sports legend.

Handball great Bill Peoples, a 15-time Montana state champion, died Friday in Missoula when he was run over by a delivery truck on the campus of the University of Montana.

Missoula Sheriff’s Department spokesman Jason Johnson told the Missoulian that Peoples’ death is being investigated as a suicide.

Peoples was 60.

Playing for legendary coach Jud Heathcote, Peoples led the University of Montana to national collegiate handball championship in April of 1974. Peoples was named the University of Montana’s Most Outstanding Athlete in 1975 and was inducted into the Butte Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He was ranked No. 76 on the Missoulian’s top Montana athletes of the 20th Century.

Only Great Falls’ Jim Ritter, who claimed 19 state titles from 1947 to 1969, won more in Montana than Peoples, who teamed with his brother Bob, Tom Zderick of Butte and Tim Boland of Great Falls to win the 1974 national title.

Peoples won the individual college national title in 1974 and 1975. He won eight straight Montana state titles from 1971 to 1978. He won his last state title in 1999 in Billings.

Peoples’ long championship handball résumé also includes four Washington State singles titles, three Washington doubles crowns, a national YMCA open singles title, two Canadian national masters doubles titles, one Canadian national open singles title, one Canadian national masters singles title, seven U.S. national masters doubles titles, one U.S. national masters singles title and three Pacific Northwest Open titles.

He played three years on the United States Handball Association Pro Tour.

Peoples stopped playing competitive handball after the 2000 state tournament in Butte. He fell to eventual state champion Ryan Spotorno in the semifinals that year. He lost the last game 21-20.

“His competitive drive was unmatched,” Bob Peoples said in an April 2009 interview for a feature story on his brother. “He’d rather die on the court than lose. He’s diehard handball right ’til the end.”