Seattle P-I: Where Are They Now: Chuck Randall, basketball coach, inventor
July 8, 2008
SEATTLE, Wash. -
By DAN RALEY, P-I REPORTER
The CBS Evening News interviewed him, as did The New York Times and Washington Post. Paul Harvey mentioned him by name in one of his radio commentaries.
Thirty years ago, Chuck Randall received a flurry of national attention, but not because he was the Western Washington University basketball coach, and a successful one at that. Nor did it have anything to do with him surviving a major heart attack that would have killed most men.
Randall was widely considered the inventor of the collapsible rim. In the eyes of these national news outlets, this Bellingham icon had provided basketball with a clever innovation, one urgently needed to prevent backboards from shattering under the stress of overenthusiastic players throwing down dunks.
Today, the rim and its shock-absorbing hinge remains standard issue at every serious level of the game, as necessary as nylon nets and hardwood floors. However, Randall, 81, has precious little to show for it. Other individuals, through sheer hustle or maybe disingenuous means, have been credited with this sporting discovery and reaped financial rewards.
The Smithsonian Institution recognizes Arthur Ehrat, 81, a retired Illinois grain elevator operator, as the inventor and displays a rim he created.
Toby Dittrich, 62, a Portland physics professor, likewise has his name on patent documents stating he is one of the breakaway rim pioneers.
Randall is left with yellowing old newspaper clippings and a $12 check he receives every few months.
"Chuck Randall got the publicity," Dittrich said matter of factly. "Arthur Ehrat and I got the patent and the money."
Randall details his rim involvement and fleecing on multiple levels in his recently released autobiography, "My Impossible Dream," co-authored with Barbara Kindness. He describes how a company named "Toss-Back" copied his rim known as the "Slam Dunk" and tried to undercut him. He mentions how a business partner, John Simonseth, quit sending him royalty checks. Randall claims an attorney hired to retrieve those royalties stole $7,297.18 from him. A deeply religious man, he shrugs at his misfortune.
"If I had got something out of this legally rightful, I'd probably have a different car," joked Randall, who drives a 2000 Ford Taurus with two dents in it. "The life I live is not too bad. I guess I don't go to bed bitter."
It could be coincidence and nothing more that Randall, Ehrat and Dittrich each began tinkering on collapsible rims simultaneously in 1975-76. Yet none of these men, including Randall, can pinpoint exactly when he got started.
Whether or not his invention came first in concept, Randall clearly was guilty of dragging his feet in pursuing a patent. His rim business always took a back seat to his coaching pursuits. Hundreds of thousands of dollars might have been squandered in the process.
"Chuck is a very creative individual, but like a lot of creative people he didn't have street sense," said Denny Huston, former Western player and Washington assistant coach. "He just went by the seat of his pants."
Ehrat said his nephew, Randy Albrecht, a one-time Saint Louis University assistant coach, encouraged him to build a specialized rim. He obtained the original rim patent in 1982, and has since been forming liaisons or purchasing interests from several competing people, including Dittrich and Simonseth. He had heard but didn't acknowledge the claims that Randall was the rim innovator.
"When I got licensed, that kind of went by the wayside," Ehrat said.
Curiously, Dittrich, the son of a long-time Western Washington professor, was living in Bellingham, across town from Randall, when he supposedly came up with his rim idea. He insists there was no impropriety involved, no infringement on the coach's idea.
"Chuck didn't have one when I started working on mine; his came a few years later," Dittrich said. "But I'm not here to make Chuck Randall look like a liar. I have a lot of respect for Chuck Randall."
Ehrat said he received enough rim proceeds to pay for five college educations for his grandchildren, and have a little left over. Dittrich, without being as specific, said he made a similar amount.
To initially market his rim, Randall purchased four motor homes and paid eight students to drive around the country and show it off. For $15,000 and dividends, he went a more conventional route, selling the business to Simonseth, 75, a Snohomish man and now suffering from Parkinson's disease, and another person, Joe Quall, who would later split from Simonseth.
"As far as we know, Chuck Randall invented that rim," said Simonseth's wife, Marie. "We had to pay Arthur Ehrat royalties. It was a hokey thing. He used a drawing to get a patent."
Randall grew up outside Spokane, attended Eastern Washington and was cut from the basketball team before a succession of high school coaching jobs led him to Western Washington. Finding his niche, he coached the Vikings for 18 years, winning 275 of 416 games. He's in the NAIA, Washington basketball coaches and Eastern halls of fame.
He started thinking about rims after beating Eastern Washington 61-60 in Bellingham late in the 1974-75 season. After the game, opposing coach Jerry Krause showed him how one of the metal lips was bent, which meant a last-second Eastern shot might have dropped and the outcome been different. Randall felt great guilt over this. He suffered in unimaginable ways.
"That bothered me," he said. "Three days later, I had my heart attack. The doctors said it was the most severe heart attack they'd seen for a guy who lived."
After sitting out a season in recovery, Randall returned to build his rim and coach five more years before retiring. The father of three spends most days playing golf at Lake Padden with his wife of 60 years, Doris.
His book came about when a Seattle woman, Rose Brittain, a self-described inventor, heard about his rim travails from a mutual acquaintance. She enlisted Kindness, a friend, to write his story and paid to have it published in order for the coach to receive some sort of credit. He sat for a Bellingham book signing last week. For book orders, Brittain created a Web site, www.myimpossibledreamchuckrandall.com.
"To see someone taken advantage of like that just kills me," Brittain said.
Randall maintains a solitary connection to his rim invention, but it's almost more insult than flattery. Every three or four months, he receives a $12 check from the now-disbarred attorney making retribution.
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