CHAMPAIGN — As a kid growing up on West Healey Street, Becky Beach jumped into sports: basketball, Wiffle ball and touch football. Whatever they were playing, Becky wanted in.
Becky’s brother Andy and neighbor Andy Dixon always welcomed Becky into the games.
“She always had that talent,” her dad Ted said. “She could hold her own against the neighborhood guys. We had some pretty good ball games going on in our yard, and we had a basketball hoop on the garage. ... A telephone wire stretched across the driveway. Becky learned to shoot over it.”
Becky excelled at Champaign High School, playing basketball and golf (on the boys’ team), volleyball, tennis and softball.
Her dad remembers a four-overtime basketball game against Bloomington. He sat in the gym balcony “going crazy, like it was the finals of the NCAA.”
Basketball was always her favorite, Becky said.
“We were both blessed with good hand-eye coordination,” Becky said.
Becky went on to a successful career in basketball and golf at Illinois. She was part of the early years of women’s sports, when teams had to scramble to find places to practice. The first basketball tryout was at Freer Gym.
The players didn’t know what they were missing.
“I was just happy to have a place to play,” Becky said. “I’ve often thought, ‘I wish I was born 10 years later.’ But then I think, ‘Gosh, what if you were born five years earlier? You wouldn’t haven’t had anything.’ I was right where I was supposed to be.”
Becky started her career at Parkland College before spending her final three seasons at Illinois. The Illini played a couple of games at the Assembly Hall her first year before moving there full-time her junior season.
Ted ran the clock at Illinois games at the Assembly Hall.
In golf, Becky was Illinois’ first Big Ten medalist, winning the 1976 conference title. She also won the AIAW state title twice. On the court, Becky led the team in scoring and assists two seasons and rebounding once. Her first coach at Illinois was the program’s first coach, Steven Douglas.
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Becky is part of the Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2022. On the 50th anniversary of Title IX, many of the picks celebrate achievements in the women’s program.
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman called Becky to give her the good news. They chatted for a bit, and then he said, “I’d like to congratulate you being inducted into the Hall of Fame.”
“I said, ‘What?’ I had no clue,” Beach said. “It’s a good thing I could make enough putts and make enough baskets to get in.”
Becky beat Dad into the Hall of Fame. Ted was a standout basketball player, starting for the 1951 Final Four team.
Becky showed her dad the list of honored athletes and coaches.
“I think it was something she worked hard for,” Ted said. “She was happy to have it come true.”
Fittingly, Becky’s Hall of Fame class includes Harry Combes, who was Ted’s coach at both Champaign High and Illinois.
“The coolest thing is going in with Harry Combes. I’m thrilled to go in with the other inductees, but Harry Combes being my dad’s high school coach and college coach, it’s pretty full circle,” Becky said. “It’s pretty emotional for dad.”
Don’t count on a long speech from Becky at the induction ceremony. Not her style.
“This is going to be the shortest acceptance speech ever,” she said. “I’m not much of a talker. They won’t get the hook out for me.”
The Beaches are hoping Harry’s daughter Jane returns to C-U for the September ceremony.
“She was 5 years old when we won the state,” Ted said.
Becky’s induction crowd will include many from the Beach family. Ted will be there along with Becky’s siblings Marybeth, Andy and Barb. Nieces, nephews, cousins and friends will join them. As Becky says, “I’m a townie.”
Becky’s mom Shirlie, who was married to Ted for 66 years, passed away in 2017. Ted, 93, lives in the same house where Becky and her siblings were raised.
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Becky figures her Big Ten golf title helped her reach the Hall.
Golf has been an important part of her life.
Betsy Kimpel was Illinois’ first women’s golf coach and worked with Becky. The team practiced at the UI Golf Course.
The longest trip the team ever took was to Marshall in Huntington, W.Va. The Illini drove to every event, staying mostly in the Big Ten footprint. Other than one player from Missouri, the team was from Illinois.
In the early 1980s, after a strong finish in the Illinois State-Am, Becky tried pro golf.
After a few years of playing, Becky heard about an assistant pro job at Lincolnshire Fields Country Club. She was interviewed and hired.
Becky stayed at the course 33 years before becoming the head pro at Urbana’s Stone Creek (now Atkins Golf Club). She retired in 2019.