While some have said it's time to cut athletics from public schools and put that money into the classroom, Belinko said he doesn't think that will happen — nor should it.

"When we talk about athletics and public education, we have to ask ourselves, 'Why do we have sports?' Because it's supposed to teach youngsters things that you can't teach them in a classroom setting," he said. "However, with the pressure of academic achievement, No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, it does not mention that you have to have an interscholastic athletics program, so are we delivering what we preach — character development, sportsmanship, fair play, teamwork? To help deliver those virtues is why we have interscholastic athletics."

This school year, Belinko has had a little more time to attend games. He retired as coordinator last June but stayed on as consultant to help his successor Mike Sye with the transition.

For Sye, a Woodlawn graduate and former Woodlawn athletic director, taking over from Belinko is a daunting task.

"His name is a title," Sye said. "I'm always referred to as 'the new Ron Belinko,' so for me that's a lot to live up to. His integrity, his great vision and his commitment to excellence — those are the things that he has left with Baltimore County, to a program that is viewed by so many across the state as the program. Now that I'm here, I see so many other programs waiting to see what he does. He's build that aura around himself."

As Sye carries on, Belinko will play golf, fish and spend more time at Bethany Beach. He and wife Donna, who recently retired after 35 years as a teacher and guidance counselor, plan to spend more time with family and at social events they've missed because of his busy schedule.

However, Belinko's work has made an impression on thousands of student athletes and those who know him aren't likely to forget.

"The greatest job in the world is being a high school teacher and particularly a high school coach. There's nothing more rewarding," Belinko said. "You're not going to get rich, but you don't realize the impact you have on youngsters. I've been out of the classroom since '83 and it's amazing those youngsters who are now in their 50's still remember the influence you had on them as a teacher and a coach."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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