Ron Belinko admits he will have an empty feeling on Aug. 15.
That date represents the traditional start of the fall high school sports season, and has been a date circled on Belinko’s calendar for more than 40 years.
Belinko, Baltimore County Public Schools longtime coordinator of athletics, officially retires at the end of the school year, ending a career in the county school system that began in the mid-1960s.
“My life has been built around a school calendar since I was 5 years old,” said Belinko, who technically retired last year, but stayed on with the county for an additional year as a consultant. “So once summer is over, it’s definitely going to be different, but it’s definitely time to move on now.”
Belinko, 69, grew up in South Baltimore and graduated from Southern High School where he played football and lacrosse. He eventually earned his teaching certificate from what was then Towson State College before earning a master’s in physical education at Morgan State University.
Belinko then embarked on an education career that saw him make his mark as a teacher, coach and administrator throughout Baltimore County. This began with teaching stints at Parkville and Holabird Junior High Schools before moving on to what was then Eastern Vocational Technical High School in 1969, the year the Essex school opened.
Building a Winner
After spending three years there, where he started the lacrosse and wrestling programs and was an assistant football coach, Belinko moved on to Overlea, where he achieved his most success as a coach.
Belinko was at Overlea from 1972-83, where he coached football and lacrosse and was athletics director. But it was as a wrestling coach that Belinko was most well known.
From 1972-78, Overlea was one of the top programs in the state as it placed second in the state tournament in 1973 and 1977 and third in the state in 1978. Belinko was eventually inducted into the Maryland State Wrestling Hall of Fame and the state chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“The most rewarding part of that part of my career was being able to have a positive impact on the lives of so many young student-athletes,” Belinko said. “Being able to make a difference is why we all get into education in the first place.”
A New Challenge
Belinko became supervisor in the Office of Athletics and Physical Education in 1983 before eventually overseeing the athletics programs for the county’s 24 high schools in 1994. It was around this time that Belinko said he oversaw one of his proudest moments as an administrator: the founding of the county’s allied sports program.
The allied sports program offers soccer, softball and bowling teams for county high school students who have physical or mental disabilities. Students in these programs compete in actual games and can earn a varsity letter in the process.
“Title IX ensured that there were equal opportunities for male and female athletes, but there was nothing for those with special needs,” Belinko said. “We did this because it was the right thing to do and not because someone told us to. When court rulings later mandated opportunities for special needs students, other school systems were scrambling, but we were ahead of the curve.”
In the year since Belinko announced his retirement, he has spent much of his time grooming his replacement. Mike Sye has been acting county athletics coordinator since January.
Sye said he knows he has big shoes to fill and is ready for the challenge of taking over for Belinko. Sye is familiar with the county as he has served as athletics director at Woodlawn High School the last 12 years. The 40-year-old is also a 1990 graduate of the school.
“Ron Belinko is a living legend, not only in the county, but throughout the country,” Sye said. “He has done a tremendous job building the athletics programs in the county and has left a great foundation for me to build upon.
“I’m lucky that I’ve had the last several months to work under him as he assists with this transition. He’s been a true mentor and he will definitely be missed.”
Veteran Kenwood athletics director Derek Maki shared a similar sentiment.
Maki said other districts have modeled their sports programs after Baltimore County's thanks to Belinko's work. Maki is also grateful for Belinko's encouragement and mentorship that has led to many of the county athletic directors earning national certification.
Personally, Maki said, Belinko was influential and supportiuve of him in his roles as a coach, county soccer representative and athletics director. He also influenced Maki to get involved in the Maryland State Athletics Directors Association, of which he now serves as president.
"Ron Belinko has touched thousands of lives and was able to positively impact our community in ways most people never will," Maki said.
As for the future, Belinko said he plans on spending more time at his beach house in Bethany Beach. He also plans on remaining active with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, which in December honored him with its 2011 Frank Kovaleski Professional Development Award.
The national award recognizes Belinko’s “county, state, and national contributions to professional development for athletic administrators,” according to a news release.
“Right now, I plan on taking it easy this summer,” Belinko said. “It’s definitely going to be a little weird once the summer ends because I’m going to miss going out and watching games and tournaments to view the fruits of my labor. But there comes a time when you just have to stop and smell the roses.”