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Serious battle with coronavirus couldn't keep Flowery Branch's Rodney Beck from officiating high school football in 2021
On Friday, Beck and crew from the Lanier Football Officials Association will call Class A state semifinal game between Irwin County/Wilcox County in Ocilla
Rodney Beck
Flowery Branch's Rodney Beck, fourth from left, prepared to call the Class 3A state semifinal game at Pierce County High on Nov. 26 in Blackshear. Photo courtesy Melissa Chapman

Flowery Branch’s Rodney Beck is one of the most grateful high school football game official in the state. 

The 59-year-old lifelong Hall County resident’s harrowing experience with COVID-19, in 2020, never diminished his passion for being back this season in the middle of the action on Fridays in the fall.

“For me, it’s just a blessing,” Beck said. “It’s an answered prayer.” 

In fact, his favorite hobby, proudly working as a veteran member of the Lanier Football Officials Association, is largely responsible for his recovery to near full health. 

“From a physical standpoint, it’s 100 percent the reason I got back in shape,” Beck said. 

Now, he’s getting ready for some of the most exciting action calling high school football in his career. 

On Friday, Beck’s crew from the Lanier Football Officials Association will be on the call for the Class A public schools state semifinals game between Irwin County vs. Wilcox County in Ocilla. 

This will be the first time he’s gotten to call a state semifinal contest in his 33-year career. 

The ultimate goal is to get an official ranking high enough to be on the field for one of the state championship games on Dec. 9-10 in Atlanta. 

In the postseason, referees advance to the next round based on a scoring system of their accuracy the week prior. 

Beck’s crew was ranked No. 16 heading into the state semifinals and will need to jump up to No. 8 to make the cut for one of the state championship football games. 

It might seem like a big task, but relatively miniscule compared to Beck’s uphill battle back from COVID-19 and double pneumonia in his lungs. 

“I really want one of those rings from the Georgia High Schools Association for doing a championship game,” Beck said. “Some of my friends have one of those rings, now I want one of my own.”

Since completely beating coronavirus, Beck’s had some of his most memorable experiences in 2021. 

On Nov. 26, Beck’s crew traversed down to deep South Georgia to call the Class 3A state quarterfinals game between Pierce County vs. Peach County in Blackshear — his second-ever experience calling a game in the third round of the state playoffs.

The icing on the cake, for Beck, has been working the pylon camera for two Atlanta Falcons games this season: the preseason match against the Cleveland Browns and the Thursday night game against the New England Patriots on Nov. 18.

Not just football is responsible for Beck’s survival, even after spending 19 days in the Braselton campus of the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in August 2020, then dependence on oxygen for the next six weeks. 

He’s surrounded by a loving family, including his wife of 37 years, Lisa, daughter, Melissa Chapman, and two grandchildren.

That moral support helped him turn the corner, even when things looked bleak. 

“I’m a Christian, so I knew if it was my time, I knew where I was going,” Beck said. “I just didn’t want to leave my wife as a widow at 56.” 

Beck’s day job is public works director for the city of Clarkston, in Dekalb County. 

In the summer of 2020, despite following enhanced precautions at work to avoid the spread of the pandemic, Beck came home one August afternoon and didn’t feel well. 

“My wife came home and said, ‘you’re burning up with fever,’” Beck said. 

The next day, Rodney and Lisa both went to have a coronavirus test and both came back positive. 

While Lisa experienced only mild symptoms, Rodney’s escalating problems prompted them to call an ambulance and have him transported to Northeast Georgia Medical Center. 

Hooked up to oxygen, medical professionals prepared Melissa and Lisa that Rodney could be admitted to ICU and hooked up to a ventilator at any time. 

Rodney said his condition started to improve when he was treated with monoclonal antibodies.

“I got the Presidential treatment before (Trump) even had it,” Beck said with a laugh. 

As his levels of oxygen administered began to lower and his own breathing improved, Beck’s doctors felt confident that he would be able to leave the hospital and return home. 

They just didn’t know when. 

He was finally released from the hospital on Sept. 13, 2020, Melissa said, but he was still using oxygen continually until November. 

“I had absolutely no energy,” Beck said. “To go to the bathroom felt like I was running a marathon.”

He returned to work Jan. 4, still working a part-time schedule, and was down nearly 40 pounds and lost a considerable amount of muscle mass after his lengthy illness.

In 2021, already thinking about a return to the football field as an official, Beck started pulmonary rehabilitation, after consulting with his doctors in Gainesville. 

His progress was impressive and his lung function continued to improve. 

Beck’s only lasting ailment from his bout with coronavirus is permanent lung damage, which comes into play when there’s poor air quality outdoors. 

Still, that wasn’t going to keep him from being back on the high school football field for Year 33 after missing the entire 2020 season. 

Beck said his walking starting by going to the mailbox every day for a week, he said. Then he started going to the neighbor’s mailbox every day. 

Eventually, he was jogging from his home, along Winder Highway in Oakwood. 

By the time football season rolled around, Beck was up to nearly two miles. 

His first game assignment was Aug, 8, a preseason match at Rabun County High in Tiger. 

For the first few weeks, Beck would check his oxygen level at halftime, getting good feedback every time. 

Even though the veteran official has added back some weight since getting back to good health, he’s at around 230 pounds, down from 260 before he contracted coronavirus. 

Beck said that having coronavirus and coming precariously close to death has changed his outlook on everything. 

“Everything is more precious to me now,” Beck said. “Coming close to death makes you appreciate everything more.”

Beck said he’s got two year remaining before retirement. 

Then, he can spend time with the people who matter most in his life. 

“I look forward to retirement,” Beck said. “I’m ready to be able to spend more time with my grandkids and family.”