Becker important piece behind the scenes for Railers

Mark Schnabel
The Kansan
Newton athletic events manager Fred Becker retired at the end of the school year after more than 30 years.

What most people see around high school athletics include the coaches, the athletes and the game officials.

Then there’s what goes on behind the scenes.

For nearly 35 years, what went on behind the scenes at Newton High School athletics was put together by Fred Becker.

The longtime Newton science teacher also served as events manager for the Railers until his retirement at the end of the school year.

Becker began his career in the Newton school district about 40 years ago, serving first as a teacher at the middle school, and then at the high school.

“Near the end of that time (at the middle school), I started working the book or the clock at basketball games — that kind of thing,” Becker said. “Then after five years, the opportunity was made available to come to teach ninth grade science at the high school. I found myself doing the book and the clock more and more. After a few years, a guy named Kent Franz, who was the assistant athletic director at the time and went on to do other things, stepped aside. Janice Whitfield and I started helping out in a lot more things than athletics. It just continued from there.”

Becker’s duties include everything from helping the officials settle in, directing visiting teams to locker rooms, helping with crowd control and doing whatever needs to be done.

“My real job is just to help out the athletic director with the logistics and day-to-day operations of athletic events,” Becker said. “Planning for the events start about 24 hours before the game time. I decide what kind of coolers need to be filled with hospitality supplies for our guests and officials. I put together packets and signs for the gate workers. Often by this time, the athletic director has sent me a package of information about who the officials are and what games will be played at what sites. About two hours before an athletic event starts, I try to get things ready. The hour before the event starts, I can be free to help the workers. I spend my time puttering when the event starts and act when things come up or when the athletic director needs something.

“Finally, when the game’s all over, I help out the gate workers, collect the things the table workers used, help the officials get tucked away and finish up and odds and ends at the end of the contest.”

Becker said qualities to be successful in the job includes paying attention to detail and a willingness to help out the visiting teams.

“For me, one of the treats with this thing that I do is meet so many honestly, friendly and thankful people,” Becker said. “When I think about this, the coaches, officials and students are often very thankful people. Oftentimes, when I show a team the locker room, everyone of the athletes will say thank you when they walk by. They adopt the habits the coaches are trying to train.”

Becker said his background in athletics was competing in freshman football, basketball and running the two-mile at Moundridge High School. He also ran a season of cross country and worked video in basketball.

“My background in athletics was just cheering on my friends,” he said.

Becker later attended Bethel College. He earned his master’s degree at Wichita State. He also has course work at Kansas State and Emporia State.

His first athletic director was Jim Lewis. He later worked under about a half-dozen other AD’s, through the current one — Brian Becker.

“Jim Lewis was an amazing man,” Fred Becker said. “His personality was hands off, but he always knew exactly what was going on. He had the ability to know what was happening and what a person was doing in a certain situation. He was military reserve and he was just old school. He had that kind of personality. He always wanted that event to start on time. After you click through all the others, they all had different styles. Some were a little more concerned about how things were going. It’s always been fun working with a variety of athletic directors and determining their styles, what they want done and what they want to take care of themselves.

“Our current athletic director is so very on task. He’s always working on what needs to be done. Nothing every really phases him. Likes to do as much as he can himself, then lets others fill in.”

“Fred, just with his dedication to Newton High School, he has really been the only way someone in my position can do my job,” Brian Becker said. “He takes care of so many of the details not everyone in the public sees. He’s escorting teams and officials when they come to preparing coolers and towels and things like that. There are so many little detail things he does that make this job a lot easier — especially when I’m balancing being athletic director for the district and being an assistant principal.

“The intangible piece he brings is just the positive attitude he brings everywhere he goes. In the community, kids, parents, grandparents, people from other schools just look forward to interact with him because he’s just such a great person to be around and his attitude is so infectious. He just puts the word hospitality into whatever we do.”

Brian Becker said the district is looking internally for a new events manager, and failing that, will open the job to outside applicants.

“We’re not going to find another Fred Becker,” Brian Becker said. “Especially for the money he was paid to do that position, he put far more hours in than most people would ever dream of putting into a job, It’s because he loved what he did. Finding someone to fill his shoes and be as dedicated is going to be a tough task.”

Brian Becker said the biggest loss in Fred’s retirement will be the “institutional memory” brought to the job.

“Fred knew details even I didn’t know sometimes about they way a certain event needed to operate,” Brian Becker said. “His experience in all of that was tremendous. He often would see things I wouldn’t see because of his experience. He’s been around sports and activities for quite a long time. I hope someday I will have half the knowledge he had. Fred is one in a million. His presence will be greatly missed by many people. It just won’t be the same not having him around all the time. I wish him the best in retirement.”

Fred Becker said his plans for retirement includes a little sabbatical, then take some time to do some planning and “see what kind of opportunities are available.”

He said he may look for some part-time activity to keep involved. He said he still plans to attend Newton athletic events.

“If I weren’t working this job, I’d be attending athletic events anyway,” he said. “It’s been a really nice fit for me. I enjoy watching high school athletics. One of the neat things about high school athletics is it’s about the students, their competition, developing their skills and forming their character. It’s still a good development tool in the school.”

When away from the school, Becker said he likes to do odd jobs at St. Mary’s School or at the grounds of St. Mary’s Church in Newton. He also enjoys exercise and biking.

“Athletics is a wonderful enterprise,” he said. “When you see students, parents, athletic directors and coaches all working to develop skills in youngsters, and more important, developing their character and equipping them with good habits to be able address the challenges they have in life.” 

Mark Schnabel can be reached at mschnabel@thekansan.com