Jim Luck, football letterman, Tech’s winningest baseball coach, former assistant athletic director for facilities and non-revenue sports.
Because sometimes I get story inspiration from just opening the Daily Digest.
It’s a beautiful summer evening in Atlanta. Wispy high altitude clouds on the horizon frame a robin’s egg blue sky speckled with some fluffy cumulus fellows closer to the ground. The east is beginning to darken, while the west shines the last of golden hour onto the high rises of Midtown. I sit on my parking deck and think.
I drive a lot, nowadays. It’s 43 miles out of town to work and another 40 back. It’s certainly different than rolling out of bed and straggling into the MRDC back when my apartment was on West Campus. Without traffic on the Downtown Connector in the early dawn, it’s really no more than cruise control. And I take that for granted, not least of all when I’m fighting traffic on the way back in the evening. But also when I see stories like this in the Daily Digest, it just reinforces how far from mundane driving can get, and how quickly, too.
That setting sun is something, you know, as it shines onto West Campus in the evenings. I headed down to Hemphill and Tenth to poke around the new police station. The community room at the new station, it is clearly noted, is named in honor of Sgt. Gary Beringause. Beringause, for those unfamiliar, is the only Georgia Tech Police Department officer to ever die in the line of duty. He was an experienced veteran of the force, who had served 14 years at the time of his death. His legacy was one of a good man, with a strong positive effect on his peers and family. Enough, of course, that he is memorialized yet again in GTPD’s gorgeous new home facing Rocky Mountain Pizza and the Paper Tricentennial Building at the gateway to Home Park.
There’s another building, this one recently repurposed, dedicated to another man probably lesser known than he deserves to be, at least nowadays. Though many readers are undoubtedly familiar with the ACC Network studio, or at least have heard of it, I am sure few know it resides in a building named for former Georgia Tech Assistance Athletic Director for Facilities and Non-revenue Sports Jim Luck. This is the same Jim Luck who played football and baseball for Georgia Tech in the years preceding World War II, when he left to serve his country. He returned as a decorated war veteran, earning a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars, and the Purple Heart with three leaf clusters, and finished his Tech degree in 1948, though he was unable to continue playing college sports.
After he graduated, he coached high school sports, including leading his hometown of Americus to a 53-5 record in four seasons, including 3 state titles. This was enough to garner the attention of Bobby Dodd, an assistant coach during his playing days on the Flats. Luck returned to Tech as a JV assistant. He was frequently passed over for promotions, but when offered the opportunity to become the head baseball coach, he jumped at it. His leadership, as a jack-of-all-trades, ready to do whatever he could to advance his program from a barely-varsity backwater with no money, no help, and no prospects, to the bones of the thriving program we see today. See, Tech, in the old days, wasn’t much good at any sport besides football, maybe golf, and occasionally swimming or basketball. As noted by his biography Tech’s Luck, he inherited a program without a facility and consisting mostly of other sports’ players with little prospects at fielding a competitive team against the second-tier schools they had to play. He retired after the 1981 season, after leading Tech to a 320-280 (.530) record, and handing over a well-oiled, smoothly functioning team to Jim Morris. By the standard set by the football team up Fowler Street, Tech baseball could still be considered in its golden age of stable, steady, and successful coaches, matching 63 years Heisman, Alexander, and Dodd with 58 years of Luck, Morris, and Hall and counting.
After his tenure as baseball coach, he joined the Georgia Tech Athletic Association in the Assistant Athletic Director role, as one of Dr. Homer Rice’s right hand men. He had been playing, attending, coaching and administering in various roles at his alma mater for about four decades on the fateful afternoon he and Sgt. Beringause found themselves driving down U.S. 441 somewhere east of Atlanta one November Friday.
The two men were killed when a tractor-trailer jackknifed in front of their vehicle after escorting the football team back from practice in Athens to the team hotel before the annual Clean, Old Fashioned Hate game.
Homer Rice was quoted in the UPI as saying, “If there were ever two Georgia Tech people, Jim and Gary were. It is unbelievable that it could happen like that.”
Bill Curry, in that same article, lamented that, “We’re just heartbroken. [Luck] gave his whole life to Georgia Tech. And Gary had become so much of our program that his wife, Judy, said tonight that he loved us like we were his brothers. We’ll just miss them terribly.”
At the risk of lionizing two great men as they themselves eulogize and lionize two other great men, of all people to have said those things, they’re coming from Bill Curry and Homer Rice. These are two of the most well-respected and well-regarded men of their generation of legendary college coaches and administrators. These iconographic leaders do not mince words. They do not use small praise. We, as a community, lost two men who were part of the heart and soul of Georgia Tech on that fateful day, east of Atlanta.
One can never prepare for a loss, never mind one as unexpected as this. Naming a police station and a track locker room-turned-television studio are both tremendously fitting, yet somehow not enough for what these two men meant to Georgia Tech. That’s why, even more than 30 years later, their deaths still resonate. There’s a reason Tech’s Luck was worth writing and reading, and there’s a reason to name GTPD’s most public facing physical space after their only officer to ever die in uniform. One needs not to be a head football coach or institute president to be a great Tech man or woman.
In a way, they went in a similar vein to Lyman Hall. Tech’s second president was a military man in his own right, well conditioned, and relatively young and fit, especially when compared to the elder Isaac Hopkins, whom he replaced. He worked hard. And, yes, people knew he was vacationing in order to rest from the rigors of running the Institute if not single handedly, then at least with a more-than-healthy dose of gusto. But, yet, his death of seemingly utter exhaustion was a surprise. No one could handle it. The lively man who secured funding seemingly out of sheer willpower and convinced John Heisman to coach at the football backwater of Georgia Tech in the still-nascent city of Atlanta was snuffed out so suddenly.
Not much is guaranteed in life. But, seeing as how people remember and revered these men, both in their respective times, as well as today, it is easy to see the effects of their lives well lived. And, in their own way, they had their own larger than life impacts on their spheres, their school, and the slices of this life that held them near and dear.
Additionally, thanks to United Press International, Sgt. Gary Beringause’s Officer Down Memorial Page, this GTSwarm post that alerted me to the existence of a biography of Jim Luck, which was instrumental in writing this column, as well as his Georgia Sports Hall of Fame Induction blurb.
If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below and I will be sure to look into adding it to the schedule. What is old is new again, or at least liable to be featured in the future. Thank you for reading this latest edition of From the Rumble Seat’s Rearview Mirror.