The Antioch Sports Legends recently inducted its Class of 2008, 14 individuals and one team whose achievements on and off the field have become a source of pride to their community.
They include All-Around Athlete: Gary Shields; Basketball: Sue Cottier; Baseball: Max Neal and Greg Glod; Coach: Edmund Babe Atkinson; Community Leadership: Leo Fontana; Football: William Bill Beasley, Jess Cone, John Olenchalk and Ron Sbranti; Golf: Wayne Sleppy; Softball: Rachelle Manning; Swimming: Dennis Boyd; Track: Eddie Savage; Team: Antioch High School's 1966-67 football team and head coach Bill Snelson.
Below, courtesy of the Antioch Sports Legends, the Press presents the first in a series of profiles of these outstanding figures from the world of sports.
The Antioch Sports Legend Hall of Fame, located at 1500 W. Fourth St., is sponsored by the Antioch Historical Society. The museum is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. For more about the Sports Legends, visit www.antiochsportslegends.com.
Edmund Babe Atkinson
Coach Atkinson called the shots in a five-decade coaching career that ended in 1987. As a San Jose State student, he hitchhiked into San Francisco to referee basketball for $1 per game. He played six sports as a teen and lettered in four at San Francisco's Commerce High.
Babe coached 10 years at Madera High prior to arriving at Antioch in 1947. Under his 25-year tutelage, the Panthers won league championships in the several sports he coached: 1949, '50 and '52 in varsity baseball, 1954 and '56 in B basketball; and four consecutive first-place finishes for JV baseball between 1968 and '71.
He umpired California League baseball games and was co-founder in 1952 of the Contra Costa Football Officials Association. Between 47 and 66 Babe was refereeing Antioch Industrial League basketball games, Antioch Alumni football games, Summer League softball games and the Modesto Elks Charity Baseball games played by major and minor leaguers. Babe often umpired several games per day, which helps explain his lifetime totals of 655 football games, 1,045 baseball games and 690 basketball games 2,390 contests in all.
Babe and Mno Grant were instrumental in the development of Antioch's youth baseball programs in the early 1950s. Babe directed baseball clinics for all ages and several leagues, including Grasshoppers at City Park. He could also spot potential talent. Between 1952 and '72 he was a bird dog scout for the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, guiding Don Landrum and Kiko Garcia into professional baseball contracts. Babe was honored in 1983 by having AHS's baseball press box dedicated to him; in 1995 with an award named after him created by the North Bay Officials' Association; and on his 90th birthday with a California State Assembly resolution.
William Bill Beasley
The scourge of polio which afflicted thousands in the early 20th century struck Bill Beasley in 1930. Paralyzed for months, Bill dropped out of Saint Mary's College at the end of his freshman year, but recovered in time to play football as a sophomore. Bill's inspiring career began at Riverview Union High School in the same building now housing the Sports Legends Hall.
Captain of the baseball and football teams, he graduated in 1929, earning All-League honors in football. During his Riverview years, Bill played under Dutch Eells, the namesake of AHS's football field, who led Bill and his team to a win over Pittsburg High in 1927. In the spring, he played second base and pitched for the baseball team, and played in the American Legion Baseball League. Few people had the opportunity to attend college during the Depression, but a full-ride scholarship allowed Bill to continue in football and baseball and to captain both teams at St. Mary's College.
He scored three times on kickoffs in his freshman year. As a sophomore, he intercepted a pass vs. Fordham taking the ball 80 yards downfield that clinched the winning touchdown at New York's Polo Grounds. Bill was a virtual one-man team, playing halfback, fullback, quarterback and kicker positions for the Gaels. Perhaps his greatest college accomplishment was his appearance in the East-West All-Star game at Chicago's Soldier Field in 1933, one of the sporting events held during the run of that year's Centennial of Progress World's Fair.
Baseball also beckoned for Bill, who played second base, shortstop and pitcher for St. Mary's. Upon graduation he played baseball in the Pacific Coast League. Bill settled in Antioch as general manager for the Fibreboard paper mill and as mayor of Antioch between 1950 and '53. He was inducted into St. Mary's sports Hall of Fame for baseball in 1973 and football in 1976.
Every stroke. Every distance. Every record. Dennis Boyd defined swimming at Antioch High between 1970 and '72. He was the school's outstanding swimmer of 1971 and '72, outstanding water polo player of 1971 and captain of both teams.
During his junior year, Dennis set seven school records, including a 55.7-second winning time at the North Coast 100-yard backstroke match, a full two seconds faster than anyone else. Along with brothers Tim and Tom, Dennis was part of an Antioch swimming dynasty. By 14, he was ranked first in the U.S. in his age group in the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter backstroke. At 16, he was ranked 17th in the world in the 100-meter backstroke, the top swimmer in his class nationwide.
Competing as a Panther, Dennis' backstroke performances won the DVAL and North Coast titles, and earned him the Honorable-Mention All-American award. Dennis' ability wasn't confined to the pool, as he was awarded a bravery medal in junior high for saving a classmate from drowning in the ocean.
Dennis earned a full-ride scholarship to the University of Missouri, where he swam all four years, setting school records in the 100- and 200-yard backstroke and 200-yard individual medley. As swim team captain in 1976, Dennis was recognized as one of the university's top student leaders.
Graduating first in his business logistics major put Dennis on track toward his current success as a Missouri entrepreneur: five-time Inc. magazine honoree and Small Business Administration Hall of Famer.
Dennis still swims competitively, currently holding the St. Louis Senior Olympic records in the 50-yard backstroke and 100-meter individual medley in the 50-54 age group.
Antioch High's Student Body President and Salutatorian of 1946 became a star at Stanford and enjoyed a lifetime of college coaching success. As part of the undefeated Sports Legends AHS Football Team of 1945-46, Cone was nominated for All-County First Team honors. Following two years in the Army, he earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Stanford and started four years in football.
During his college football career, Jesse was MVP in 1948 as well as Outstanding Member of the undefeated freshman football team; an All-America Honorable Mention in 1951; All-Coast for two years; winner of Team and Coaches' Award for Outstanding Senior in 1951 and Co-Captain of the 1952 Rose Bowl team that played Illinois.
Coaching became Jesse's vocation after college, first at San Bruno's Capuchino High School in 1952, then Pomona College between 1953 and '57, where actor/singer Kris Kristofferson was one of his players. Between 1958 and '69, Jesse coached high school and community college players, including Les Shy, who later played for the Cowboys and New York Giants.
Jesse stepped up to the challenge of offensive coordinator at football powerhouse Utah State University in 1969, coaching future pro Phil Olsen. Jesse was promoted to Assistant Head Coach at Utah State in 1970. By 1972, he was responsible for coaching one of the best teams in Aggie history, named the 15th best team in the U.S.
He moved on to North Carolina's Wake Forest University in 1973; University of Utah from 1974 to '76 (where he served as offensive coordinator); then at New Mexico State University in 1977. Jesse kept coaching into the late '70s and early '80s at Turlock High and Merced Community College. By 1994, Jesse headed overseas to Germany as head coach for the Hamburg Silver Eagles.