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Coaches, former athletes remember Bealler
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
Not hundreds, but thousands.
That’s how many young lives George Bealler impacted as a long-time coach and mentor in the Lititz area.
So when Bealler, 95, passed away on Tuesday, March 20 at Masonic Village in Elizabethtown, there were generations of former Warwick athletes who were saddened by the news.
The athletes’ lives that he touched most closely were those who played boys basketball, boys soccer and softball for the Warriors — three programs with which he became synonymous as a volunteer coach for nearly 30 years.
And nearly every one of those who knew him would tell you the same thing.
With George, you knew where you stood.
"He was not known for sugar coating anything," chuckled Ned Bushong, who coached junior varsity and junior high boys soccer with Bealler for many years. "But he was that way with everything. That was just George."
Warwick head softball coach Don Miller offered a perfect example of what some might describe as a colorful personality.
"I just remember some of the expressions he would yell and the girls had no idea what he was talking about because they were dated, even for me," Miller laughed. "I’d have to translate almost every expression he would use because they didn’t know what he meant. There was a lot of, ‘You swing like a rusty gate,’ or ‘You move like an ice truck.’ The girls got it — they knew. So it wasn’t like he was being mean. They just knew how to take him."
Indeed, as much as people understood that just to be Bealler’s style, they also knew that he had the kids’ best interests at heart.
"I think (the kids) certainly had a lot to do with him coming back (every year)," said Katie Gerfen, a 2000 Warwick grad who starred in field hockey and softball.
"He really cared about kids," Bushong said. "He wanted them to do things and do it the right way and work and give it your best. He could be a little bit gruff, but it was in the interest of the kids. He was a good guy."
Jeff Landis, the current Warwick boys basketball coach and a 1991 WHS grad, would not argue that point. In fact, one of his favorite memories of Bealler involves the long-time coach showing his soft side in a dreaded "one for 17" workout that the Warwick basketball players ran, in which they had one minute to sprint 17 cross courts.
Bealler started with the Warrior hoops program in 1982 as a 66-year-old volunteer coach with Dave Althouse after retiring from Machinery Products in Lancaster, and he won a lot of favor with the players for his leniency in those drills
"I think we all discussed after hearing of his passing how George saved us on numerous occasions," Landis smiled. "George would keep the clock and he’d have a stopwatch and he’d just so happen to yell, ‘Time,’ as soon as the last person crossed the line. It didn’t matter if it was a minute and 15 seconds or 55 seconds. George always yelled ‘Time’ when the last person finished because if you didn’t make it, coach Althouse would make you run again. George always had your back. Now, if Coach got mad enough, he would say, ‘George, I’m keeping time.’ Any other time, though, George was in charge."
Bealler was often in charge of the pitching machine during the Warwick softball team’s batting practices as well. There wasn’t anything that he wouldn’t do, even if it meant putting himself at risk of getting hit with the ball.
"I remember him mostly with the batters, and sometimes it was feeding the ball machine," Gerfen said. "I remember one kicked right back on him and he had a bloody nose."
Like those who were involved with softball and boys basketball, Bushong recalls a lot of bus rides with Bealler while coaching in the boys soccer program. They became acquainted with one another in the fall of 1986 when Bushong joined Keith Parke’s staff, and several years later, they were together when the boys junior high soccer program started.
Those bus rides to various points around the Lancaster-Lebanon League also gave Bushong the opportunity to learn about the many things that Bealler experienced in life, including serving in the U.S. Army during World War II and his love of hunting, fishing and archery.
"And he was a pretty good bowler," Bushong added. "For years, when I first started coaching, he was in one of the leagues at Dutch Lanes."
Bealler’s love of soccer, in fact, dated back to his childhood when he played on the soccer team at Lancaster Boys High School, where he graduated from in 1935.
"(George) would talk about how they would run from the old high school to wherever the field was," Bushong said. "He said it was about two miles and I think they had one ball for the team. He talked about that kind of stuff."
Eventually, Bealler coached Triple A softball in Lancaster and later was a coach for midgets, teeners, slo-pitch, girls softball, basketball and soccer in the Warwick School District.
Bealler was already coaching with the Warwick softball team by the time Miller joined the staff as an assistant with Troy May in 2000. Of course, it didn’t take long for Miller to get to know him.
"He loved softball," Miller said. "Anything you’d ask him to do, he’d help out."
That included spending a lot of time working with the batters and preaching fundamentals.
"I remember George by him mostly working with the batters and him coming to each player saying, ‘You’ve got to keep that elbow up,’ talking about their right elbow, and ‘You’ve got to watch the ball the whole way in,’" Gerfen said. "He would move his lower body and his elbow toward a fake ball and he would get into that."
The former Lady Warrior star also recalls that if there was ever a Warwick softball event being held, Bealler was not going to miss it. One day, in fact, he walked to practice through a driving rainstorm, only to find an empty field once he got there.
"(I remember) him coming into the gym all soaking wet because he never got the memo that practice was moved inside," Gerfen said. "I think (coaching softball) kept him young mind-wise, and it enabled him to just share the knowledge of a sport that he absolutely loved."
Indeed, he was a Warwick softball fixture until his wife, Betty Gruel Bealler, became ill and he stayed home to take care of her. Bealler, who also loved spending time with his great-grand-daughters, eventually returned to coach softball after Betty passed away.
The Warwick softball team seemingly became like extended family for Bealler. Gerfen recalls the players and coaches getting him a cake for his 80th birthday and celebrating the occasion with their beloved coach.
"In my four years that I was in high school, he had his age on his jersey," Gerfen said. "That was pretty neat."
Miller said Bealler would accurately be described as a Warwick legend.
"I think everybody knows him," Miller said. He’s coached forever. There’s a lot of people around Warwick who have either been taught by George or know who he is. He was synonymous with Warwick softball because that’s where people saw him mostly toward the end there."
"All I can say is he was just a great guy," Bushong said. "Overall, I don’t think there were any kids that didn’t like him. He volunteered in three sports up until age started to catch up with him … He’s missed."
George L. Bealler, 95, of Lititz, passed away Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at the Masonic Village in Elizabethtown.
Born in Lancaster, he was the son of the late Maris and Ida Aston Bealler, and the husband of the late Betty Gruel Bealler.
George served in the U.S. Army during World War II, was a member of Lititz American Legion Post #56 and enjoyed hunting, fishing and archery. He retired from Machinery Products in Lancaster.
He coached Triple A softball in Lancaster and thereafter was a coach of midgets, teeners, slo-pitch, girls softball, basketball and soccer in the Warwick School District. Most of all, he loved spending time with his great granddaughters.
Survivors include his daughter: Sherry, wife of Barry Hart, of Lititz; granddaughter: Traci, wife of Andy Wagg, of Delta; and great granddaughters: Miranda and Laine Wagg.
Funeral services were held March 23 at the Richard H. Heisey Funeral Home, Lititz. Burial took place in Conestoga Memorial Park.
Contributions may be made in his memory to the Warwick Girls Softball Team, c/o Warwick High School Athletic Department, 301 W. Orange St., Lititz.
For online condolences, visit: richardheiseyfuneralhome.com. More BEALLER, page A16