A scholarship fund honoring the late Ed Wahlbeck has been established to provide sports scholarships to young athletes.
Photo by BRIAN GOFF
Eric Wahlbeck, Belleair’s Parks and Recreation director, is the son of the late Ed Wahlbeck, who will be honored by the town on May 12.
BELLEAIR – Some people might describe Belleair’s upcoming Backyard Bash on May 12 as a fundraiser, while others prefer to call it an event to help young athletes in need. Danielle Felten of Belleair’s Parks and Recreation Department is one of those people.
Felten describes the Backyard Bash as a time when the community can come together and chip in to help shore up the Ed Wahlbeck Scholarship Fund and at the same time pay tribute to the man who had done so much for the Belleair community before his death two years ago.
“We don’t want the fund to die,” she said. “This is a time to make everybody aware of the need. Ed did so much for youth football in Belleair and now we can help his memory with something tangible.”
When Ed Wahlbeck, only 54 years old, passed away of a heart attack on May 12, 2010, his family knew he would not want flowers or cards. They realized the best way to honor him would be to keep helping young athletes in need. So, the Ed Wahlbeck Scholarship Fund was born.
Ed’s son Eric, now Belleair’s Parks and Recreation director, said he and his brother, Carl, grew up with young men in need always around the house.
“My mom and dad would just bring a young person into our home and feed them,” he said. “And they would pay for the registration into whatever sport he played and often that person would stay with us, sleep in our home. We didn’t give it a second thought.”
Ed did more than that. He coached his sons all through school. Eric remembers it well.
“One year he would coach me, then the next year he would coach Carl and it went like that until we finished school. Then when we went to Largo High and he didn’t coach us any more he would come just to watch our practices. It was a great feeling to know your dad was always there.”
Getting the scholarship fund off the ground was not difficult. According to Eric, the moment people heard about the fund they contributed, more than $10,000. That was just two years ago and already $7,000 has been disbursed to sports organizations in the area.
It costs a young athlete $250 to play tackle football, primarily for the Belleair Bolts, now known as the Belleair Chargers. The scholarship fund has paid the full freight for 29 youngsters who would otherwise not be able to play. It costs $100 to play baseball. Thirteen athletes have been fully funded to play for the Seminole Junior Warhawks in the past two years. Two other athletes were helped so they could play in the Belleair flag football league.
What would move a family to create such a thing to honor their husband and father? Eric Wahlbeck says it was not a difficult decision.
“He was such a great role model,” he said. “It is a good feeling to be able to help others and that is what my dad would have wanted. He was a shirt off the back type guy. He would be proud to see what the scholarship fund in his name has been able to do.”
Eric recalls the story of one young man who was helped by his dad.
“For several years this boy was around our house and Dad and Mom paid his way to play baseball. One year his own mother took him to register and discovered they wanted the $100 fee. Well, the woman called my dad and told him that they were suddenly charging to have her boy play baseball. My dad finally told her that he had been paying all along. She couldn’t believe it. But that’s the way he was, he didn’t do any of that for praise, he just did it.”
To continue the memory of the man “who just did it,” the Belleair Recreation Department is holding the Backyard Bash on the grounds of the Dimmitt Community Center, Saturday, May 12, 5 to 9 p.m. There will be lots of games, food and fun. It’s free.
As part of the event a huge oak tree on the East athletic field will be dedicated in memory of Ed Wahlbeck. A plaque will be erected to remind residents of his contribution to youth athletics.
And there might be a special guest. One of the young athletes helped by Ed and Mary Wahlbeck over the years was D’Qwell Jackson, the starting middle linebacker of the Cleveland Browns. Jackson, who is from Largo and attended Seminole High School, ate many meals at the Wahlbeck household and now, says Eric, “I called him and told him of this event and invited him along. I hope he will be there.”
Anyone interested in donating to the scholarship fund can make checks payable to The Wonders Foundation, 918 Osceola Road, Belleair, FL 33756. For more information, call 518-3728.