When Charlie Beale was 12 years old, he and his mother were sitting in the bleachers watching a high school basketball game in south Georgia while his father worked as a referee.
To their horror, they became unwilling spectators when Beale's father collapsed on the court and died from a heart attack.
The widow and the son moved back to their native Augusta, where young Charlie immersed himself in sports.
"If it hadn't been for school sports and the recreation department... I don't know where I'd be," Beale says.
Years later, as director of Columbia County's Recreation Department, that formative experience came back to him when the late Sheriff Otis Hensley told him that "every kid you keep out at a park, I don't have to worry about."
Sports, whether in recreation leagues, schools or private organizations such as Little League or Greater Augusta Swim League, are a vital outlet for channeling youth energy. For 33 years, Beale has been an essential figure in the growth of Columbia County's Recreation Department - a virtual nuclear power plant of youth energy.
The good news in the announcement this week of Beale's retirement is that he'll stay on board until Dec. 31. The bad news is that finding an equally strong advocate for public recreation programs will be extraordinarily difficult.
The phrase "big shoes to fill" could have been written specifically to apply here. Beale's immediate supervisor, Community and Leisure Services Division Director Barry Smith, is right on the money when he calls Beale an "icon."
The best tribute to Beale, a man whose efforts have contributed so tremendously to Columbia County's quality of life, would be to work to continue those efforts. The recreation department should remain an operation of full public access and broad community benefit, and citizens should insist that county officials follow that philosophy when they choose Beale's successor.
Well-rounded recreation programs benefitted that young man long ago when he lost his father, and such programs can continue to help provide a positive direction for all young people.
Many thanks to Beale for his decades of service to our community.
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