Remembering the Titans: Eric Becker

Becker was known for skills on the track and on the basketball court

Courtesies of UWO Archives -- Oshkosh won their second straight conference championship in 1938.

Courtesies of UWO Archives — Oshkosh won their second straight conference championship in 1938.

Jacob Link, Sports Co-Editor

The second UW Oshkosh athletic Hall of Fame class in 1975 featured two-sport athlete Eric Becker, who attended the Oshkosh State Teachers College (now UWO) from 1935-39.

Becker, a captain of the track and basketball teams at Oshkosh, helped the Titans to basketball conference championships in 1938 and 1939.

Born Oct. 6, 1917, in Oshkosh, Becker began his track career at Read Elementary School where he participated in the All-City track and field meet at Menominee Park in 1928. He finished third in the high jump, competing against other Oshkosh elementary schools.

Becker, a three-time letterwinner in basketball, was a star athlete at Oshkosh High School, where he set the school record for the 440-yard dash as captain of the track and field team his senior year. As a cross-country runner, Becker set a school record in his senior year by running a 2.25-mile course in 11 minutes flat.

“In his senior year, he broke an arm in the first game of the season against the alumni quintet and returned for only the last five games of the schedule but played sufficiently to win his letter,” the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern wrote of Becker in 1939.

Becker entered the Oshkosh State Teachers College as a history major in 1935, serving as team manager of the football team that fall. The team finished as undefeated South Division champs in the State Teachers College Conference that year, with a record of 5-0-1 under head coach Robert Kolf.

“Two fellows who are never realized as part of the football team are Marlon Batterman and Eric Becker, managers,” the Oshkosh Advance wrote in 1935. “When the season is over, the athletes go back to their studies while managers remain for weeks in the gym cleaning and packing away the goods. When the time comes to hand out any awards, the athletic council may get generous and award them a minor letter.”

Becker did receive minor letters for his efforts as team manager in 1935 and 1936, but his best-known contribution to Titan athletics came with the basketball team.

Becker was named captain of the track
team in 1937.

Becker, who earned a letter every year he was on the basketball team, helped Oshkosh turn its basketball program into a regular contender for the STCC title. The 1935-36 basketball team finished fourth in conference play, going 7-10 with a team that featured nine freshmen.

“The new freshmen were all players of high caliber, but they lacked experience in conference competition, and smoothness of play, which is developed only after a great deal of practice and playing together,” the Quiver yearbook wrote in 1936. “If all the members of the team return next year, the team will undoubtedly wipe away the defeats which they suffered this year.”

The next season, Oshkosh finished with a 7-11 record, but the team made strides over the previous year, taking down the two-time defending STCC champions Stevens Point Teachers College 32-21 in the final home game of the season.

The Titans finally had a breakthrough in the 1937-38 campaign going 7-0 in conference play to finish in sole possession of first place in the STCC. Oshkosh entered the season as a dark horse, with Stevens Point heavily favored to win the state crown. In the first meeting of the season, Oshkosh defeated Stevens Point by 24 points, jumpstarting a seven-game conference winning streak. In the final game of the season, the Titans played Stevens Point once again, this time falling 35-31. This shattered Oshkosh’s hopes for an undefeated season, but the Titans claimed their first conference championship since the 1926-27 season. At the end of the year, Becker was named to his first all-conference team as one of the top guards in the state.

Oshkosh was heavily favored to win the conference title in the 1938-39 season but had to face an uphill battle en route to claiming back-to-back STCC championships. Two starters were lost to injury early in the season and the Titans fell to Eau Claire and River Falls in their first two games of the conference season. After two more losses to Stevens Point and Milwaukee, Oshkosh grinded out a 29-28 win over Platteville to secure their first win of the season. This jump started a three-game winning streak that set up a showdown with Whitewater to secure the conference title.

“The game was rough and the victor was determined on the free-throw line,” according to the 1939 Quiver. “The Kolfmen dropped in 20 of 27 free throws, which were the determining factor.”

Becker, elected captain of the team before the season, scored eight points for the Titans in the 32-29 victory, which gave the Titans back-to-back conference titles for the first time in school history. At the conference awards ceremony in Madison later that year, Becker was named to his second all-conference first team.

“In basketball, Eric has always been cool-headed and the floor general of the team, setting up plays and calling signals,” the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern wrote in 1939. “He is fast, has a good shot and is a good team player.”

As a freshman, Becker was a star on the track team, winning the state championship in the 440-yard dash. In the first meet of the season at Whitewater, scandal ensued when Becker was elbowed off the track, but still managed to finish third. Becker would have his revenge in Whitewater in the state track meet when he won the 440-yard dash with lengths to spare, coming within 0.4 seconds of the state record.

In 1937, Becker remained one of the top Titan runners. The Titans finished last in the first meet of the season behind

Becker returned to the track team in 1938.

Milwaukee and Whitewater, but Becker placed second in the 440-yard dash. After defeating Lawrence University in a dual meet, Oshkosh placed fourth in the state track meet in Wisconsin Rapids. Once again, Becker finished second in the 440-yard dash and was elected honorary captain at the end of the year for his “outstanding track performance.”

Becker sat out the 1938 track season but returned to the team in 1939, much to the delight of coach Kolf. Although the Titans finished first in just one meet, Becker set the school record for the 880-yard dash that season, finishing in 2:08.2.

Becker, president of the Men’s Association and staff writer of the Oshkosh Advance, graduated with a teaching degree from Oshkosh in 1939.

After graduating, Becker became the head coach at the Oshkosh Vocational School and continued to play in local basketball leagues. From 1939-40, Becker played for the Oshkosh Chris-Crafts basketball team, a “farm team” of the National Basketball League’s Oshkosh All Stars and helped the team to a runner-up finish in the state tournament in 1940.

Becker got a job in 1941 as a guidance counselor and basketball coach at South Milwaukee High School before moving on to various high schools around the state. In 1952, Becker became the superintendent of the Beaver Dam school district, where he served for over 20 years. While at Beaver Dam, Becker was named president of the Little Ten athletic conference and introduced the sport of wrestling to the high school.

Becker, who died in 2004, was best remembered for promoting the “equal opportunity for all young people.”

“He always indicated his belief that all youths deserve an opportunity to go to college and prove themselves,” the Oshkosh Daily Northwestern wrote. “He said often students who do not show promise at first go on to make greater successes than the obviously brilliant student.”