Columbia Basin College

Memories recounted at CBC induction

PASCO -- Forty-eight years later, the truth can finally be told.

Back in 1963, Jim Rodgers -- then the men's basketball coach at Columbia Basin College -- got Byron Beck to come to school by buying him a cheeseburger.

Beck, who would eventually play in the ABA and NBA, countered that it wasn't the burger that sealed the deal.

"I got an extra order of fries," he said. "I was committed right there."

It was one of many great stories shared Thursday night at CBC's fifth annual Follow Your Dreams banquet, a fundraiser for the school's athletic scholarship fund that also doubled as an induction ceremony for the latest class of CBC's Athletic Hall of Fame.

Beck was among the inductees in the class, which also included wrestler Darrell Keller, the 1978 football team, and the 1963-64 men's basketball team.

Rodgers -- who was inducted into CBC's hall in 2010 -- was the keynote speaker for the event and was also the coach of that basketball team.

"We only had two close games all year, and those were both against Everett," said Rodgers, whose squad went 27-0 en route to winning the Washington Junior College Association championship.

In fact, that squad won the fourth of five straight titles that season.

"We had some pretty good players from the previous season coming back," Rodgers said. "But probably the least heralded player for us at the beginning of the season was Byron."

That was because Beck was a shy kid who came from small-town Kittitas, and he was a little nervous about going to a big school.

"CBC was small," Beck said. "That atmosphere fit me. CBC was also scouted and recruited by the major colleges."

Rodgers knew that Beck needed some work.

"I told him that if he played for me for one or two years, everybody in the United States would want him to play for them," Rodgers said.

Beck would go on to the University of Denver and then 10 seasons in pro basketball.

Back in 1978, everybody in the U.S. wanted CBC's football players.

The 1978 team went 10-0 and finished atop two junior college polls to claim the mythical national championship.

"In 1977 and '78 we had a lot of good football players," said Dick Zornes, who was the head coach back then before moving on to run Eastern Washington University's program. "We had 21 players in those two years go on to Division I programs. We had another 20 go to regional universities."

The program was so strong back then, said Zornes, that some players out of high school who had offers from some four-year schools opted to play at CBC to raise their stock over the next two seasons.

Keller competed just one season for the CBC wrestling team.

But in that one season in the late 1960s, he went 20-0 and then went on to take the National Junior College Championship match in his weight division, winning 22-0 in the final.

NCAA Division I power Oklahoma State then quickly picked him up, and he won two NCAA titles there.

He also was on the 1972 U.S. Olympic team.

"To have success, first of all you have to have a dream," Keller told the crowd of about 200. "I wanted to be a national champion. Then you have to set goals. You also have to have good mentors and coaches. And I had good ones at Kennewick High with Bill Conrad, and CBC with John Howard, and all my coaches at Oklahoma State."

The money raised from the event will help more CBC student-athletes.

CBC athletic director Scott Rogers told the crowd that the event has raised enough scholarship money for 100 student-athletes over the last four years. Eventually, they could move on to four-year schools to complete their degrees.

"We've had 73 different schools that our athletes have gone to in the last 10 years," Rogers said.

And it all starts at CBC, Beck said.

"Please know," he told the crowd, "that I am forever changed because a lot of you who are here tonight."

* Jeff Morrow: 509-582-1507; jmorrow@tricityherald.com

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