It may take a village to raise a child, but if that child wants to play a sport at a high level? A village might not be enough.
Time after time you hear about elite athletes crediting a laundry list of people who have helped shape them, both personally and professionally. The same holds true for the prep ranks, where young players are molded into the men and women that they will become down the road.
Case in point, Litchfield senior Billy Beckham, who signed to play baseball for Robert Morris College after graduation this spring. Beckham's passion for the game and work ethic went a long way in accomplishing his goal of playing baseball at the college level, but it was his support system that helped make that dream a reality.
"The biggest influences in my athletic career would have to be my parents number one," Beckham said of his parents, Bill and Cindy Beckham. "Without them I wouldn't have been able to meet all of my coaches. My parents have paid my way in all of my sports and I couldn't be more grateful."
For Beckham, number two on that list is a group of coaches, not all of whom taught the young Panther on the diamond.
"Without Coach Newkirk, I would not be able to deal with the mental aspect of any sport," Beckham said about Litchfield Golf Coach Dan Newkirk. "He coached me both years of golf and helped me get through things I didn't think I could do."
The three-sport athlete also credited his basketball coach, Drew Logan, for instilling a better work ethic into him.
"He taught me to work harder than everyone else, whether he knows it or not," Beckham said of Logan. "Sophomore year he told me not to lace 'em up because I was going to take stats during the Carlinville tournament. So my junior year I made sure I wouldn't be taking stats. Instead I found myself in the starting lineup."
On the diamond, three men have influenced Beckham's journey from Litchfield to the Robert Morris campus in Springfield. Fran DeLaCruz coached Beckham when he played for the Litchfield Bullets, while Dennis Boeker was Beckham's travel coach for the Springfield Arsenal during his high school years.
"Coach DeLaCruz and Coach Boeker both gave me a chance to play on their travel baseball teams and compete at a higher level," Beckham explained. "Coach DeLaCruz taught me how to play the game right and Coach Boeker coached me to my full potential. When I thought I was maxed out, he kept pushing me to do better."
The third coach is his current one, Litchfield Head Baseball Coach Chris Headrick, who gave Beckham a shot at varsity.
"Coach Headrick became my high school coach my sophomore year and had no idea who I was," Beckham said. "And he still gave me the opportunity to start right field and pitch."
That decision paid off for both Beckham and Headrick as the sophomore outfielder led the team in hitting with a .390 average. Beckham also had 14 runs batted in, seven doubles and 12 runs scored in his first year on varsity.
He would also make a few appearances on the mound, striking out 19 batters in 19.2 innings, with an ERA of 2.92.
Beckham's progression would continue in his junior year, his second as a starter, as he earned second team all-conference honors in the outfield.
Last year, Beckham batted .294 for the Panthers, with 15 hits, five doubles, three triples and a home run. He also scored 11 runs and drove in 13 more, with just six strikeouts in 51 at-bats.
On the mound, Beckham led the team in wins, with three, and had an ERA of 5.66. While he didn't strike out much at the plate, it was a different story for the batters who faced him as he struck out 64 batters in 38.1 innings.
As good as his career has been so far, the best may be yet to come for Beckham, both in his final year at LHS and in the future at Robert Morris.
"I chose Robert Morris because they are giving me the opportunity to play my favorite game for almost free and I have the opportunity to be a four year starter," said Beckham, who also mentioned the college's flexibility if a larger school comes calling.
In addition to his time on the diamond, Beckham will be studying health and wellness at Robert Morris, in an effort to give back the same way others gave to him.
"I want to be able to help others when they are not 100 percent," he explained.
It's a noble goal, but those around him set a pretty good example.
"Without all these people I wouldn't be in this great position, so thank you to everyone who has helped me on my journey," Beckham said, "and to Robert Morris for giving me 4 more years of me playing my favorite childhood game."