Becky Beach: Illini Women’s Athletics First Two-Sports Star

By Mike Pearson

In today’s world of specialization, it’s extremely rare to find a women’s collegiate athlete who competes in more than one sport. Even back in the mid 1970s when Title IX kick-started the rise of intercollegiate varsity athletics among females, it was highly uncommon.

Beach led the Illini in scoring as a sophomore and junior.

During the initial decade of women’s athletics at the University of Illinois, excluding those who competed in similar sports like cross country and track and field, there were only three dual-sport athletes: Marijo Dluzak (volleyball and basketball), Cathy Tex (golf and gymnastics) and Becky Beach (golf and basketball).

However, neither Dluzak nor Tex earned as many varsity letters at Illinois as did Beach, the local standout from Champaign’s Central High School.

Beach grew up at Ted and Shirlie Beach’s family home just a 2.7-mile drive from the facility then known as the Assembly Hall. Young Becky was a shy girl but thanks to childhood friends like former Illini equipment manager Andy Dixon, she was always encouraged to play in the neighborhood’s playground sporting events.

“Andy is my brother from another mother,” Beach said. “And thanks to him and my brother, the other boys just started letting me play with them. We really had a good neighborhood.”

When she went to high school at Champaign Central, Beach developed into an exceptional athlete, playing key roles on the Maroons’ volleyball, softball, basketball and golf teams – the boys’ golf team, that is.

“Coach (Richard) Wooley, who was the golf coach at Central, told me that he really wanted me to play on the boys’ team,” Beach remembered. “But I was really shy and so I said ‘no, no, no.’ After a while, he finally persuaded me to play. It was tough. You can imagine high school boys. They didn’t want to get beat by a girl. “

Even though her dad had starred for Coach Harry Combes’ Illini basketball team in the 1950s, the U of I wasn’t Becky’s first choice.

“I was all set to go to Illinois State because that was the place to go in those days,” she said. “Their athletic program for women was great. Then mom and dad and I went to see Dr. (Karol) Kahrs at her office. She said, ‘Becky, why don’t you go to Parkland (College) for a year (1974 -75) and then we’ll get you into the U of I. ‘ So that’s what I did and the rest is history. “

Beach vividly remembers going to basketball tryouts at Freer Gym in the Fall of 1975.

“(Coach) Steve (Douglas) had these orange cones set up for dribbling drills and stuff,” she said. “I’m like ‘what is this?’ Then afterwards, he posted a handwritten list outside the gym to see if we made the team or not. I was like ‘Oh, my gosh, I made it! Now what?’ I had no idea what a triangle offense was but it was Tex Winters’ influence on him (at Kansas State) why we ran that. Before coming to Illinois, I thought all you did was run around and shoot the ball. “

Becky Beach wgolf
Beach won the 1976 Big Ten Championship.

Unlike basketball, Beach knew exactly what to expect when it came to her joining the Illini women’s golf team. After all, she’d known the coach for years.

“(Coach) Betsy (Kimpel) and Sue Young and others at the Champaign Country Club had taken me under their wing when I was first playing,” she said. “Among them, they’d won a million Twin Cities (Golf Championships). Betsy was driving (her daughter di lei) Janice and me to tournaments, so that’s probably when I got to know her best di lei.”

Beach’s most significant moment as a sophomore Illini golfer came in the Spring of 1976 at the Big Ten Championships when she won medalist honors at the tournament in West Lafayette, Ind. Her opening-round five-over-par 80, included a four-putt first hole. Becky credits her father’s incentivising proposition di lei for her tournament-winning second-round score of 69.

“I recall my dad saying, ‘You know, if you break 70, we’ll get you a car,'” Beach said, “Well, I was in really good shape to do that after 16 holes. Then on 17, a par three, I almost blew it when I had a bogey. Eighteen was a par five and I hit my third shot within six inches… and I got my 69. “

Beach wound up beating Minnesota’s Julie Gumlia by three strokes.

Upon her graduation from Illinois, Becky was drafted by the Women’s Basketball League’s Milwaukee Does, but decided instead to try her hand with the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). Funded by her parents di lei, she competed on that circuit from November of 1982 through ’83. Twice she unsuccessfully attempted to qualify for the LPGA tour. Upon returning home to Champaign, Beach served as a student teacher for a short time, then was hired as the assistant pro at the Lincolnshire Fields Country Club. She continued in that role for 32 years before leaving in 2016 to become the head pro at Stone Creek, and following three years at the Urbana course, Beach retired.

Becky Beach at Stone Creek Golf Course
Beach retired in 2019 as the head pro at Stone Creek Golf Club.

Today, she remains involved with Illini athletics by attending a variety of events and through her service as a longtime board member for the women’s basketball team’s support group, the Courtsiders.

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