Friday, April 27, 2012

RIP, former UCLA swim coach, Ron "Sticks" Ballatore

My modest tribute is on my blog. I only knew of coach from across the nation.

Coach once told a story at the podium at a swim coaches clinic (ASCA). Since then, I've embraced that message throughout my life. Coach said that he always planned, even planning with the assistant coaches, to give the team the one thing that the guys would bitch, moan and complain about. It was by design. He'd pull something out of the blue and zing the team with this odd-ball task of little importance to him. But, it kept all the other things sacred and done without complaints, because there was that one focal point.

Ron "Sticks" Ballatore, UCLA Swimming Tribute Video from Dan on Vimeo.

I even use that method on my mother-in-law. We were going to name our first child "Dirt." That kept her off our backs for months.

He started coaching in Toledo.

Sadly, UCLA cut its men's swim team. UCLA still has crap for karma if you ask me. John Wooden is in a special place, but since then and with the cutting of the men's swim program -- ugh. UCLA broke our hearts and was the start of a long line of heartbreak for men's swimming that includes, for me, Ohio University, Bradley Unviersity, Baylor University -- and locally, Duquesne University. There is a place in hell for sports administrators and college big shots that think that you can win by subtraction.

He then went to coach at Brown and then to Gainsville, Florida.

I had a grand time watching UCLA's squad swim in 1982 as a journalist. Later I covered Tom Jager too as he swam at NCAAs at Cleveland. Tom was from St. Louis and such a superstar. In the morning he swam the fly leg in the medley relay. Then at night in finals, he'd swim the backstroke leg. He'd go where Coach told him to go, where needed. Meanwhile, Tom was a freestyler, but his stroke splits were as fast as any others. He was in the zone for every race. I think that was the deal with the medley that year, but it was a long time ago. Jager and those Bruin swimmers knew how to race and be mentally tough like few others.

Let me think again about some of my past Stix inspired twists I pulled as a coach: Once, I insisted that the Plum High School Team go to the library when we went to the PIAA Meet at Penn State. Yep, I held a mandatory study hall at states. Another time, I picked the movie, Amadeus. No other options were available. The kids were pissed. But, they were angry at the one thing I really wanted them to fume about. Those Plum years are on my mind now as Katie is swimming in Masters Nationals this weekend and she got first in the women's 100 fly today!

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