‘He Wanted Them to Play’

‘He Wanted Them to Play’

Appreciation: Ben Boyd

Generations of Potomac families lost a friend when Ben Boyd died last month. Boyd, a recreational assistant at the Potomac Community Center and a coach, referee and mentor on countless recreational sports teams, died on Dec. 23 following more than two years of heart complications.

“To Ben, it didn’t matter if you were young or old, black or white, rich or poor,” said Linda Barlock, director of the Potomac Community Center. “He befriended everyone.”

Boyd grew up in Cabin John, later moved to Potomac’s Scotland community, and graduated from Winston Churchill High School in 1970. He moved to Rockville, and lived there when he died last month.

Rev. Julie Harriday, a Churchill ’69 graduate, had several classes with Boyd.

“He was the character of the class,” Harriday said. “He was the big joker, and he had that big smile all the time.” He and Paul Thompson were inseparable friends. “You saw one, you saw the other,” Harriday said.

AT CHURCHILL, Boyd played basketball, and he maintained a passion for community sports through the rest of his life. “He was quite a player,” said Bob Nechanicky, a supervisor with the county’s recreation department. Nechanicky met Boyd in 1971, when the two ran open gyms at Beverly Farms Elementary in Potomac.

There wasn’t much in the way of community centers in the early ‘70s, said Nechanicky, but the programs weren’t hurting for participants. “Because the gym was small and the turnout was big, it was always kind of crowded,” Nechanicky said.

Boyd soon began coaching recreation-league baseball, football and basketball teams. He spent much of his time coaching children from the Scotland community, where he grew up, but he led players of all ages, from Little League baseball to adult women’s basketball, from youth football to men’s soccer. “He probably coached every age group imaginable,” Nechanicky said.

“He always thoroughly enjoyed working with the kids,” Nechanicky said. Boyd could take or leave the adults who took it all too seriously, but he had a strong rapport with children of all ages. “We would put him with high-school kids,” Nechanicky said. “He would relate to them better than some of our adult workers.”

During the ‘70s, Boyd had a fiery streak as a coach. “He always stuck up for his team,” Nechanicky said. There was the time Boyd’s football team was getting shut out, and on the game’s final drive, the referee ruled Boyd’s team didn’t break the plane for a touchdown. Why not give them the call, Boyd complained afterward to the referee. “You saw that we were getting beat 31-0,” Nechanicky recalled Boyd saying. “Couldn’t you have just given us the touchdown?”

There was also a game at Herbert Hoover Middle School, when Nechanicky had to step between Boyd and the referee. Nechanicky recalled, “I knew Ben was charging toward this guy to give him a piece of his mind.” The referee knew it, too. He jumped onto a motorcycle, and shot across the Hoover field, still wearing his striped shirt.

BOYD MELLOWED as the years went by. “He had a good perspective about it. … He’d been there and done that on both sides of the coin,” Nechanicky said.

Boyd worked as a custodian at Walt Whitman High School for a time, said Nechanicky. Later, he joined the county’s Department of Recreation, where he worked as a recreational assistant, first at the Clara Barton Community Center in Cabin John, then the Potomac Community Center. Through thick and thin, he was a diehard fan of the Oakland Raiders and the UCLA Bruins.

Boyd remained devoted to the county’s recreational sports program through four decades. “He continued right up until the end,” Nechanicky said. When Boyd’s health problems forced him to stop umpiring, he would work at the scorer’s table and keep score for basketball games.

At times, Boyd would put his own pocket money to cover equipment costs or user’s fees for the teams he coached. He’d hang up the basketball nets, keep score for the baseball game, or install the netting in the soccer goals. Whatever it took, Nechanicky said, “He wanted them to play.”

BOYD WAS JUST as generous to the elementary and middle school students who crowded Potomac Community Center each week for Club Friday. He’d make change for the students who needed quarters for soda. “If kids didn’t have a quarter, he’d pull one out of his pocket and give them one,” Barlock said.

Boyd carried on through difficulties, both as a child and in his final years. He lived with a foster family in Scotland, and was going to have to move to a foster home before the Thompson family took him in during his junior high school years. “I had five kids, two girls, three boys, and they started calling him brother,” Bette Thompson said.

Boyd remained close with the Thompson children, especially Leo Thompson, the middle son, for the rest of his life.

Boyd married, but the marriage ended in divorce, and he is survived by one son and two stepchildren. Boyd suffered a stroke in August 2005. He largely recovered from the stroke in the following year, but fell in November 2006 and had triple bypass surgery.

“Through the hard times he had, he didn’t complain,” Harriday said. “He kept getting back up.”

Again he recovered quickly, and was cleared by doctors to resume working in early 2007. “I can’t wait to get back,” he told Barlock last month.

Rev. Harriday visited Boyd shortly after his triple bypass surgery. Although Boyd expected to recover, he was also at peace with the life he’d lived. “God has me in hand,” he told Harriday. “Whatever happens, I’m OK.”

Boyd’s funeral service was held at Scotland AME Zion church, where an overflow crowd of friends, coworkers, parents and children paid respects.

“The kids up there loved him; they really loved him,” said Bette Thompson. “[At the funeral] I felt so sorry for them. When they came to view the body they were crying.”

“It was quite a tribute,” Barlock said. “It was definitely like losing a family member. … He’s coaching somewhere else now.”