CCAC North athletic director Bell makes most of opportunities
Getting the greatest return without the luxury of having the most to work with has sort of been a way of life for current CCAC athletic director Chuck Bell.
As a child, Bell had problems with his legs. He had to have them broken and reset four times and spent a good deal of time in a body cast (nine months the first time). There was a point he thought he may be wheelchair-bound. He has undergone nine knee operations, but through it all, there are two things he always held on to: a positive attitude that is extremely contagious and a refusal to accept it when told there was something he could not do.
“As a kid, they were not sure what was wrong with my legs, but I lived life as much as I could,” Bell said. “You name it, I did it. Downhill skiing, horseback riding, boxing. And, I always treated people the way I wanted to be treated.”
One sport that Bell got involved with late but is a huge part of his life today is golf. Bell likes to compete, and with golf, he can compete against perhaps his toughest opponent: himself.
“When I was 18 years old, I lived down the street from Pete Snead in Dorseyville,” Bell said. “I met his brother Sam through ( Pete) and got a few lessons.”
Bell recalls the encounter, and remembers what Sam told him like it was yesterday.
“Sam asked me, ‘You ever cut the grass with a sickle, boy? Well, it's the same motion … turn your hips and throw the grass !' ” Bell said.
Bell graduated from Fox Chapel High School and went on to Clarion, where he got a degree in business management and public relations. He earned a master's degree in fine arts and philosophy from Duquesne.
Bell bettered his mind in every way possible, but the simple lesson from Sam Snead continued to resonate with him.
Bell's path took him the way of the CCAC North Campus, where he became the athletic director, head golf coach and student development specialist. He also is heavily involved with the student life program. Although he has taken a break from coaching golf here or there, he has coached for 15 seasons.
During that time, he has guided several players to greatness in his time with them (Bell usually only has a player for one or two years). Nine of his former players currently have a PGA Card.
It is hard to recruit top-tier talent at the community college level, because so many players have aspirations of Division I schools. But Bell gets the best players he can, and together they work to be the best they can be.
His secret is a foundation of an extremely magnetic personality, and the man never forgets where he came from and what got him to where he is today.
“(For the players), I simplify the game,” Bell said. “It's about rudimentary values and instincts. Golf is about natural motions. It's like sweeping the floor or cutting the grass. It's as simple as it sounds. Move the ball, have fun and it's a good day of cutting the grass.”
This simple philosophy helped Bell and his teams qualify for regional, and national competitions. By traveling around the country, you meet people, and any of Bell's players will tell you how easy it is to gravitate toward him.
One player in particular, Ryan Van Sickle, said Bell changed his life, and later on, Van Sickle helped Bell into a unique opportunity.
Van Sickle came from a small town in Canada and never thought much about being able to play golf in college.
“Chuck opened a door for me and gave me a chance,” Van Sickle said. “It changed my life.
“Chuck is a hard worker and has a good work ethic, which pays off in the end. He has a fiery spirit that is infectious, and it helped me and the other players.”
Bell said that there was a point during the coach/player days when Bell read a young Van Sickle the riot act and considered throwing him off the team. Van Sickle later came back and apologized, and the relationship continued to grow.
“Sometimes coaches are the unsung heroes,” Van Sickle said. “The players get the credit for the work, but Chuck really did a lot for me and the other players. He created a good atmosphere, a positive atmosphere and not just in golf, but life … there are not enough words I can say.”
Van Sickle went on to play and coach golf at Missouri, and during his travels, he was offered a position to teach golf at a summer camp at Pine Needles Lodge and Golf Club in North Carolina, a position obtainable only through invitation.
The relationship between Bell and Van Sickle remains strong to this day. It was 11 years ago that Bell received an invite to come help the future golfers of the world polish their game at summer camps and “Golfaris” — instruction programs that combine lessons with the other amenities Pine Needles offers.
Bell was excited for the opportunity, but the excitement didn't come without reservations.
“I was intimidated,” Bell said. “I am a small college coach, and I am there with tour players and big college coaches.”
Bell's apprehension was with good reason. He was rubbing elbows with course owner Peggy Kirk Bell (winner of several tournament championships and a member of the 1950 USGA Curtis Cup team and 1951 LPGA Weathervane team and no relation to Chuck) and Pat McGowan, the director of instruction at the course and 1978 PGA rookie of the year, among many others.
Chuck Bell was giving instruction one afternoon when Peggy Kirk Bell stopped by. He witnessed her “chew out” another instructior, because she didn't approve of the teaching method. She strolled by Chuck Bell's lesson next and kept on walking.
“I didn't know if her walking right by me was a good thing or a bad thing,” Bell said. “Mrs. Bell is old school — she tells it like it is ... I later found out it was a good thing she walked by.”
Bell goes back every year because he loves teaching the game. He said it does not hurt that he is treated like a member of the family and gets to stay in the golf house with the other instructors.
McGowan is happy to have Bell each year. He said his positive attitude, knowledge of the game and genuine good nature help him relate to the kids.
“I know Chuck has dealt with pain his whole life, and some days he is in a lot of pain, but he will stand out there and teach all day,” McGowan said. “It shows you what a great attitude can do. Chuck loves the game, and I just think the world of him. He is a great guy and great friend.”
Bell says he is a short-game guru, and he uses that as part of his teaching. He putts with a Cleveland blade putter because, “it's usually not the putter (the determines success), it's the person putting. ... Judge your distance, pick a line and hit it. Trust your gut for the best results — you will be more relaxed.”
His travels within the sports world are mostly documented by the vast collection of sports memorabilia (much of it signed) from those with whom he has come in contact. Is home is a virtual sports museum, and he can tell you about nearly every artifact. From Arnold Palmer to Hale Irwin, Gary Player, Chi-Chi Rodriguez, Tiger Woods and almost every golfer in between to memorabilia from the Penguins, Steelers, and college heroes, the list could go on forever.
With all he has done and everyone he knows, it would be easy for Bell to have an arrogance about him, but he never boasts. Rather, he strives to give back. He strives to offer opportunity where there may have been none and help everyone he meets improve.
“I have never been really good at any one thing, but I have always been pretty good at everything,” Bell said. “If you can hang around long enough you can wear (the opposition) down. Golf is probably the hardest sport I have ever played, but that is what makes it so fun.
“I have always tried to take a little something from every experience, and I tell people that they should not be afraid to ask questions.”
When summer winds down in a few weeks, Bell will be back and coaching the fall golf season at CCAC. He will lose his entire team from last season, but as he searches for new talent, he reminds players that Lee Janzen, Fuzzy Zoeller, Bubba Watson and Rocco Mediate began their careers at community colleges.
“I just want to thank Peggy, Pat, Bonnie (McGowan), Kelly Miller for having me down to Pine Needles every year,” Bell said. “And, my roommates, Doug Gordon, Bill Butner and Ryan.”
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.