From The Courant archives, August 2013:
What Bill Detrick is trying to do over lunch on this Monday afternoon is not easy. Three days earlier, he had agreed to sit with a stranger and discuss his career, seven decades of winning and losing, goals and achievements, relationships, ups and downs, pride and regret.
Detrick has spent the weekend painstakingly organizing the stories that are now snapshots of a lifetime spent coaching and teaching. He grabs the forearm of the fellow across the table and says, "The things that have gone through my mind ..."
He shakes his head.
"If I had to wait a couple more days ..."
Detrick pushes his finger forcefully onto the tabletop -- knock, knock, knock -- and says, "I've been in the arena." He would repeat this numerous times over the next three-plus hours.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again ... who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
The famous "Man In The Arena" passage from Theodore Roosevelt's 1910 speech "Citizenship In A Republic" is often associated with battles waged in war or politics and seldom in athletics, but it can strike a chord with anyone who has committed himself to certain pursuits or causes.
Detrick, 86, best known for his 29 years as basketball coach at Central Connecticut State University, has been competing since the 1930s, when he worked for 90 cents a night at the bowling alley next to his childhood home in Springfield, N.J., scrambling back and forth between lanes to reset pins for local gamblers. Occasionally, an extra quarter might be tossed his way.
He spent 16 months in the Navy until the end of World War II, then became the only athlete to earn 12 letters at Central (four seasons of football, baseball and basketball). Following graduation in 1950, Detrick coached at a few high schools, then returned to CCSU, where in 1959, he began a coaching run that ended with a school-record 468 victories. The campus gymnasium now bears his name.
"When you think of a person who could be the [face] of the school, it's Bill Detrick," said current coach Howie Dickenman, who played at Central and grew especially fond of Detrick for the way that Detrick mentored him after the death of his father. "His philosophies on competing, on dealing with kids, on motivational topics, on life -- he'll come in and sit here and just talk and I listen and learn. He always offers me a bit of wisdom that I tuck away."
Detrick "retired" early in the 1987-88 season, hastily leaving his alma mater amid the bitter disappointment of being passed over for the job of athletic director -- a snap decision he still isn't sure was the right one. Then, in 1991, Detrick began a 23-year run as men's golf coach at Trinity, where he was NESCAC coach of the year in 2001, 2006 and 2007.
Last month, Detrick announced it was over. Although he will partner with CCSU athletic director Paul Schlickmann in an ambassador/advisory role at Central, Detrick is finally, officially, a former coach.
"This is the end," he says. "I've been in the arena. I'd like to meet you while I was still in the arena. This is the first time in over 60 years that I don't have a season to prepare for. But, anyway, I'm not in the arena and I've got to accept that I'm not in the arena."
Detrick also coached at Coast Guard and in Puerto Rico, among other places, is healthy and sharp. But the role of a coach goes well beyond coaching. From recruiting to fundraising to organizing to monitoring academics, it can be a complicated existence. Additionally, the ability to change with the times and relate to the modern athlete is key. That is something Detrick did well for a long time, although it has been a challenge in recent years.
"Say you had a kid and he was a golfer, and your son is sitting over there and I'm coaching Trinity, and you say to me, 'How long are you going to be here, Coach?' " Detrick says. "I would say, 'Well, when your son is a senior, I'll be 90, so I'll be happier than you are if I'm still here.'"
Detrick lost out on a handful of prized recruits in the past year or so. And despite the fact that Trinity will return a solid core of juniors and figures to be a good team regardless, Detrick realized that a transition for the program was necessary.
"I used to say if I could eat and sleep, I could coach," he said. "If I get good players I could coach golf in a wheelchair. But you cannot coach if society won't let you, if you can't get good players. I want Trinity to move up to the next step. I don't think I can take them to the next step, not only because I can't get players, but there is a gap that you can't replace, relating with the kids. ... How many rules can you change and still be yourself?"
'WHO KNOWS GREAT ENTHUSIASMS...'
"I'm a talker," Detrick had warned, and an hour later, he had taken only a couple of bites of his sandwich while immersed in storytelling.