Ron "Stix" Ballatore, latterly a Gainesville coach at the University of Florida, and formerly at the helm of the UCLA men's programme at the University of California Los Angeles, lost his battle with throat cancer today, Gators sources informed SwimNews a moment ago.
The list of Ballatore's coaching achievements is long and includes playing a part in the successes of double Olympic champion of Montreal 1976, Brian Goodell, long-time world 50m free record holder Tom Jager and Bill Barrett, Robin Leamy and Bruce Hayes.
Ballatore once said of Goodell, the 1976 400m and 1500m Olympic champion: "He had a will to win that I have seen in few other athletes. He wouldn’t let himself be beaten. He could summon up those hidden reserves and turn it on like few others when somebody was after him." Goodell was present at Ballatore's induction into the ASCA Hall of Fame in 2009.
A man who led South American teams at big evens in his time, Ballatore's influence stretched far and wide. Also among his UCLA charges was Rafael Escalas, Olympic swimmer for Spain in 1980 and 1984. In 1981, Escalas, set the NCAA record in the Men's 1,650-yard Freestyle (14:53.90) to become, at the time, the only swimmer to win an NCAA championship after being seeded last.
The programme Ballatore led at UCLA, one of the biggest men's set-ups, was eliminated due to Title IX at the beginning of a trend to axe college swim units in the US. The unintended consequences of Title IX, designed to give women equal opportunity to the men, was the death of a fair few men's programmes: when men's football teams account for up to 80 scolarships, the easiest way to equalise men's and women's programmes, in the eyes of bean counters, politicians and those who measure the world in easy dollars, was to drop non-revenue men's sports such as swimming.
A member of the USA coaching staff at five Olympic Games, Ballatore delivered the news of his illness to swimmers in Gainesville last autumn. Such moments cut deep, especially in places where the word 'family', much overused in the world of sport, actually means a great deal, as anyone visiting the Gainesville programme, as I did recently, will gather in a couple of heart beats.
Angelina Ballatore, the coach's daughter, captains the Florida Gators women's swimming team and is headed to the USA Olympic trials this June. Her father received a B.S. from SIU-Carbondale in 1962 and his Master's degree in Educational Psychology from Azusa Pacific (Calif.) in 1975.
He and his wife Ann Claire have five children: Lisa, Brent, Ronald, Jenne, and Angelina, the youngest of the family.
Read more about Ron Ballatore's fine career at the Gator's website