By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette
Niagara Gazette — One of the biggest names in the world of sports these days is John Beilein whose family roots run deep in Niagara County.
As the head basketball coach at the University of Michigan, Beilein and his Wolverines have moved up to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.
Today Michigan will face the University of Kentucky for a coveted berth in the Final Four championship round on April 7 at Indianapolis. Tip-off time for the Wolverines vs. the Wildcats is 5:05 p.m. on CBS-TV (Ch.4).
Although he’d probably be the last to confirm it, Beilein, a native of Newfane, has joined a select group — five active college coaches that have won 700 games. That happened when Michigan beat Texas in the third round of the tourney. If you watched the TV footage from the post-game locker room celebration, you heard Beilen citing the entire team effort. Suddenly, someone presented the game ball to him. In typical fashion, he deflected the credit to others, the staff, players and administration.
“It means you’ve been coaching a long time. It means you’ve got a lot of losses too,” Beilein said, conceding there’s an advantage of being in situations where you’re going to take losses early because you’re a rebuilding program. One observer noted that Michigan had gone 11 years without an NCAA tourney berth. Since Beilein took command of the Wolverines in 2009, he has been 9-4 in the Big Dance. While he’s reticent about his successes, he can no longer fly under the radar, as a Detroit Free Press headline stated.
Close observers of his 36-year career will tell you he has more than earned his stripes, starting at LeMoyne and guiding teams at Canisius College, the University of Richmond. and West Virginia University before heading to Ann Arbor.
Aside from all the athletic accomplishments, there’s a personal family link that merits special mention. Beilein’s mother was the former Josephine Niland of Tonawanda whose relatives made the supreme sacrifice for their country in World War II. Two Niland brothers were killed during the Normandy invasion. Another was shot down in the Pacific and held prisoner. When the U.S. Army feared the loss of a fourth brother from the same family, he was pulled from a battlefield in France and sent home.
If all that sounds familiar, the Nilands’ story was said to inspire Steven Spielberg’s epic movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” which won five Oscars. While the film is fictionalized, it’s based on the Nilands and their heroic actions in combat.
The coach and his wife Kathleen have three sons, Patrick, Mark and Andrew, and a daughter Seana. A brother, Thomas A. Beilein, a former sheriff of Niagara County with 40 years in law enforcement, is now chairman of the New York State Commission of Correction. A nephew, Bill Beilein, is the head coach of the Niagara County Community College men’s basketball team.
One of the Beileins’ biggest boosters in Western New York is a cousin, Tom Niland of Youngstown, retired from the faculty at Columbia University. He’s also sort of family historian as a fifth generation of the Niland family and its outstanding service to the nation and to the Western New York sports community.
READY TO ROLL: Weather permitting, the Buffalo Touring Co. will resume its Segway sightseeing operations in early April. In case you’re no familiar, a Segway is an environmentally friendly vehicle with two wheels that can be self-balancing after a brief training session.
At present the tours start from the parking lot of the Buffalo History Center (the former Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society) and include a drive-by or short stops at several points of interest in North Buffalo (e.g. the mansions off Nottingham Terrace, Delaware Park and its zoo, and the Darwin-Martin House (1905), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The tour company operators are excited about the prospects that could surface when the ambitious Buffalo waterfront development is completed. At present there’s obviously too much construction under way to even about operating any kind of tour in that area.
Touring on a personal transporter is rapidly gaining acceptance in other cities and at major destinations. The Segway Tours of Gettysburg, for example, offers two routes on the historic battlefield including a three-hour trip that covers Seminary Ridge, Pickett’s Charge and Little Round Top. There are weight restrictions: a rider must weigh at least 100 pounds and not more than 260 pounds.
SIGN OF TIMES: In front of an area church: “God so loved the world that he did not send a committee.”
TRIVIA QUIZ: Name the popular men’s clothing store that was in the middle of the 1900 block on Main Street in the 1950s.(Answer Thursday)Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.