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Personal Space

Brushes with fame


  • Sean Cayton

Hanging in Bob Balink's office is a framed 20-year-old cover of Referee magazine. Unless you look carefully, you wouldn't know the man on the cover is the El Paso County clerk and recorder himself. And unless Balink told you, you wouldn't know that the match he was presiding over was the 1981 U.S. Open final between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

Balink now monitors the vast minutiae of county government -- real-estate titles, motor vehicle registration, etc. -- in addition to its very essence: elections. But for 10 years in the seventies and eighties, he monitored the matches of such tennis greats as Jimmy Connors and Martina Navratilova -- to name just a couple.

Balink's love of tennis was the unintended consequence of Howdy Doody host "Buffalo Bob" Smith -- who happened to be Balink's Little League coach. Balink found himself sitting in the dugout a lot.

"[Buffalo Bob] had two sons on the team so all of a sudden there's only seven slots left," recalls Balink. "So I took up tennis when it wasn't popular."

Of tennis's most famous enfant terrible -- John McEnroe -- Balink has surprisingly good things to say.

"People get all bent out of shape about his antics, but I can name other players that were obscene on the tennis court and McEnroe was never obscene. He ranted and raved and screamed and it was part psychological tactics to upset the other player and part of it was that he's a pretty excitable guy."

Of the similarities between refereeing tennis and refereeing the county, Balink describes them both as support roles that require "knowing the rules."

However, neither tennis stars nor county ballot referendums get Balink as excited as telling the story of his "close personal relationship with Raquel Welch," whom he sat next to in high school geometry class.

"Most of the references in [my] yearbook -- you know how kids sign it -- they say: 'to Bob, the biggest goof off in Mr. Harris's geometry class.'

"Well the reason was, I was sitting next to Raquel Welch, for crying out loud!"

-- John Dicker

photo by Sean Cayton

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