In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Matt Markey talked with Ron Beczynski, who is retiring after 38 1/2 years with the University of Toledo, most of which were spent as director of athletic facilities.
Ron Beczynski has always possessed a good sense of timing. Many years ago, he decided to leave his role with the University of Toledo's facilities department and move over to athletics, at the urging of now legendary UT football coach Frank Lauterbur. Beczynski walked in the door, and soon took a great ride with the Rockets from 1969 through 1971 as they won 35 games in a row.
Beczynski, a 1961 graduate of Scott, was there when the Rockets won three straight Tangerine Bowls, and he was there on the sidelines last Wednesday night when Toledo beat Texas-El Paso in the GMAC Bowl in Mobile, Ala. It was his 10th bowl game with the Rockets.
As the facilities chief for Toledo, Beczynski has fed and trimmed and nurtured the Glass Bowl turf before it was artificial, and has swept it clean since it became synthetic. He has overseen the renovation of the Glass Bowl, the construction of the Larimer Center, and pushed the snow off the field as the Rockets prepared to play UTEP.
He witnessed the basketball win over Detroit at the old UT Field House, when Spencer Haywood hit an official and was ejected. Beczynski saw the Rockets open what was then called Centennial Hall with a stunning victory over defending national champion Indiana. As Beczynski wrestled with the new basketball standards hours before the game, Indiana coach Bobby Knight teased him about adjusting the height so Indiana would lose.
Beczynski, 62, guesses he has driven to the moon and back with all of the miles he has put on tractors and carts while working on the fields at UT, dragging the infield for baseball and softball, mowing, and grooming.
He has prepared Savage Hall for a visit from President George W. Bush, and for what turned out to be the penultimate concert by Elvis Presley, who died shortly after his Toledo appearance. Beczynski walked the track at Savage with Bob Seger, who wanted to get in a workout before his concert that night.
Beczynski's 38 1/2 years at UT will end in January - well, sort of. He will retire, spend some time in Florida and enjoy his six kids and his grandchildren, but he expects to be back at the university from time to time, working as an informal consultant/advisor during the Rockets' transition into the post-Beczynski era.
When Lauterbur hired Beczynski, he shortened that mouthful of Polish to "Beck," explaining that with 100 football players to keep track of, he'd never be able to remember the real name. "Beck" stuck, and to most of the folks on the UT campus, Ron Beck is the guy whose innate sense of timing tells him it is OK now to move on, and give up the big key ring that unlocks everything in UT athletics.
"WHEN HE HIRED me, coach Lauterbur said he thought the team could be pretty good - and a short time later we won all those games in a row and went to three straight bowls. The players loved that guy, and he did a million things for this university. He was a great man and without him, I never would have experienced all of these great moments in Toledo athletics.
"One of my many jobs back then was to drive one of the university's limousines to the road games, and take along the offensive coordinator, the quarterbacks and the running backs. Chucky Ealey, the quarterback during that long undefeated streak, made many a trip with me. He called me "Race Bandit" after a cartoon character who drove really fast but never got caught for speeding. I had them home an hour before the bus, and they loved that. A lot of those guys still look me up, including Chuck Ealey, who I saw at the GMAC Bowl."
"That Mobile trip was great - what a way to end my career here. I'd seen the boys prepare for the last couple of bowls, but this was different. When it came time to go out on the field, I thought they were going to knock the walls down. Everything was first class down there, and it was a real nice experience for me. We got treated to that southern hospitality everywhere we went. That was my 10th bowl game with the Rockets, and with the win, it was probably the finest of them all."
"I'VE SEEN SO many kids grow up and turn into men. I watched Mike Karabin play baseball here, and now he is the associate athletic director. I watched Tim Selgo have a great career here as a basketball player, and he's been the athletic director at Grand Valley State for a while now, and I saw Stan Joplin hit that shot to win an NCAA tournament game for us, and he's been the coach here for 10 years. I've watched a couple generations come here, have a great college experience, and then start a new life."
"I've always said I felt lucky to be here, and lucky to have this job. No two days were ever alike. There was so much going on, on so many fronts, that you had to be on your toes every minute, and always be ready to drop what you were doing and move on to something else. The job has kept me young, and made me feel young. Being around all the coaches and all of the athletes over the past almost 40 years - that was something that brought me to work every day excited about my job and anxious to get going."
"I THINK I will miss the association with the people the most. It has usually been one happy family around here, and people stuck together through thick and thin. I have been there and seen the emotion and the happiness after the great wins, and I've also seen the other side when people were so down after the losses. Fortunately, there have been a lot more of the good times."
"There is always something to get done, and I think my strong point was that I could stay one step ahead of the coaches and get things done before they asked for it. That came with experience - anticipating what was needed and where. Staying ahead of the game is the key, and once you got to know the coaches you could pretty much predict the kinds of things they needed or wanted."
"I just thought this was a fine time to move on in my life. I still feel great and I still have my health and there's a lot of things I want to do. I thought I might go after 30 years at the university, but I wasn't ready. It was a great run, and now I am ready for the next step in my life. I know I'm going, but I don't really feel like I'm leaving. As long as I'm around, I'll be around UT athletics in some form. It is a part of my life."