A Salute to Bill Bearse

by Heidi Butler
April 06, 2012

He knew how to golf.  He knew how to bowl.  He knew how to coach.  And, boy, did he know how to tell Bill Bearsestories. 

Bill Bearse will be remembered for all of these things, and for so much more.

Northampton Community College's long-time director of athletics passed away on April 6.  His students and colleagues will play on as better athletes and people for having known him.

Bill joined the faculty at Northampton Community College as a physical education instructor and baseball coach in 1972, the year in which Yogi Berra was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame.  Thirty-five years later Bill would be inducted into Northampton's Hall of Fame, but we are getting ahead of the story.

In the intervening decades, Bill coached golf, bowling and cross country in addition to baseball and became NCC's director of athletics, overseeing the evolution of the college's athletic program into a powerhouse in the Eastern Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference which he helped to found.  He served as president of the conference for 15 years and also as commissioner for the Pennsylvania Collegiate Athletic Association which he helped to organize.

His teams at Northampton earned 28 state titles and 68 conference championships.   Bill did not take all of the credit for that.  Early in his career, after his 100th career win in baseball, Bill was asked about his success as a coach.  "I have pretty good material to begin with." He said.  "There's a lot of talent in the Lehigh Valley.  That's because the community is behind sports.  There are good programs in the high schools and good summer recreation programs.  Young people here get the chance to become good athletes."

It should be noted that Bill wasn't always a fan of the Lehigh Valley -- or at least of its weather.  The Georgia native recalled his first game as NCC's baseball coach this way in an interview in The  Morning Call.  "My kids came onto the field [at Lehigh University where they were playing the jayvee] with beanies and winter gloves on.  I had my uniform and my kangaroo baseball shoes on.  By the second inning, my feet are frozen....I never played a game that had temperatures so cold."

Bill stuck it out, over the years helping hundreds of local athletes - and a few from further afield - take their skill to the next level, teaching them both strategy and discipline.  He described himself as a strong believer in drilling in practice and in getting his players to take a professional attitude towards their sport, but not in bullying. 

"Sport is just one part of the total educational process," Bill said in an interview in 1980.  "It teaches you team play and cooperation. It teaches you how to deal with adversities and to be flexible.  I take the game seriously, but I laugh when something's funny.  I say, do your best, but have fun."

And have fun, he did.  So did his athletes, so did his coaches, so did his colleagues. 

His fans included college presidents. On learning of Bill's death, NCC's current president, Dr. Arthur Scott said, "It is impossible to capture how much Bill has meant to Northampton and to our athletic department.  His accomplishments have been well documented, but what I always appreciated was his integrity. You could trust Bill with anything.  He was also a very good friend and probably the best storyteller I have known.  We laughed a great deal together, often about the same embellished stories.  I will miss him."

So will we all.

A celebration of Bill's life will be held at 11 a.m. on Thursday, April 12, at Connell Funeral Home, 245 East Broad Street in Bethlehem.  It will be preceded by a viewing from 10-11 on Thursday morning and from 6-9 on Wednesday evening.  Memorial contributions may be made to the family c/o the funeral home or to the Northampton Community College Foundation, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem,  for the Athletic Endowment Fund.

You can read additional tributes to Bill on NCC's athletics website and in The Express-Times and add your own favorite stories or messages below.


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