Beloit College Magazine

Beloit College Magazine

Fall/Winter 2014 (November 4, 2014 at 12:00 pm)

An Unsung Hero of Beloit College Football


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October 31, 2014 at 3:45 pm

By David Benjamin'73

LAST WORD football
Photo from the 1972 yearbook 

K.C. Johnson’89 recently made the case in this column that Beloit College has been a cradle of great coaches—well, basketball coaches—including Dolph Stanley, Johnny Orr’49, and the elegant, gracious Bill Knapton, who taught me my jump shot.

But among less-heralded coaches was one who probably saved football at Beloit College. His name was Chuck Ross.

In 1971, returning to college at Beloit after a mid-Vietnam War adventure as a conscientious objector in Boston, I inherited from departing graduate Dave Moore’71 the job of providing sports information to the media. Dave warned that Beloit sports, especially football, had hit their nadir during his tenure, including an 81-7 defeat to the dread Oles of St. Olaf and their eponymous tailback Ole Olson. Little did I foresee that I was due to observe a whole new low-point.

My boss in Beloit’s information office was Dick Sine, an old-school journalist who brooked no buried leads, suffered no fools, and taught me so much that, instead of getting a real job, I ended up writing for the rest of my life.

Among the tasks Dick assigned me was pumping out copy about Beloit College sports, which meant at least two interviews a week with Ross, a laconic philosopher who saw me coming every Monday morning and never slammed his door, no matter what had befallen the Bucs the previous Saturday.

In those days, Chuck Ross wasn’t just coaching an undermanned team. He was quietly waging a cold war against campus forces that had de-emphasized sports and wanted to banish from Beloit the expense, violence, and dumb-jock image of football.

Ross was well-chosen to preserve Beloit football, if only because of his toughness. He arrived after a phoenix-like rebuild at Kennedy-King Junior College in Chicago. He took the South Side commuter school to national prominence despite the occasional mid-game gang war involving gunfire between bleachers as both teams dove for cover.

On Monday morning in Chuck Ross’ office, the coach was never despondent or downbeat. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome—typically a lopsided loss—Ross maintained an easygoing poise, a tendency toward self-deprecating humor, and an affection for his players that bordered on romance. One of the blessings of having only 20 players, he told me, was that he could give each kid more attention. A big-timer like Bear Bryant hardly got to know his All-Americans before they were off to the NFL.

Ross’s hard work, teaching ethic, and a stubborn streak kept Beloit College football alive on the lumpy turf of Strong Stadium (better known in those days as Beloit Memorial High School’s home field), until the college remembered its gridiron heritage, bought new uniforms, and restored the Bucs to respectability.

And Chuck’s teams—with smart, patient coaching—even got better.

But first, I had the opportunity to top Dave Moore’s St. Olaf humiliation. On the Saturday (in ’71 or ’72, I forget) that Chuck took his depleted squad of 18 sixty-minute martyrs to Coe College, the Bucs lost hugely to a no-class coach who kept playing his first team even after the lead had ballooned to 50 points.

On Saturday afternoons, the Associated Press was first on my alphabetical press list. I dialed the AP and dutifully recited the final score. There was a strange, momentary silence on the other end. Finally, the re-write guy—assuming a faulty connection—asked for a repetition. I said, “Coe, 87, Beloit 0.”

Then, I could only listen helplessly as he turned to the newsroom and shouted, “Hey, guys! Wait’ll you get a load of this one!”

David Benjamin is a journalist and novelist based in Madison, Wis. His latest book is a “football romance” called A Sunday Kind of Love.

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