Gazette photographer "Teddy Ballgame" was just a cuddly teddy bear
This writer and his wife have a house full of cuddly teddy bears, but none so dear as the one we’ve lost this week.
We speak of Ted Ninman—or “Teddy Ballgame,’’ as we often called him—who passed away Sunday in Beloit.
Teddy was widely known and enormously popular throughout the area in his many years of dedication to excellence as a Gazette photographer. In the eyes of so many, he was simply picture perfect, always seemingly in the right spot at the right time to capture the magic moments in people’s lives.
Almost everybody has a fascinating story about Teddy. And we’re no exception.
Not surprisingly, our bond was nurtured through sports. Like yours truly, Teddy loved all sorts of sports, but particularly high school sports.
While every high school had Ted’s undivided attention, one team always was at the top of his list—the Reedsburg Beavers.
The Beavers are a bit out of our area, but they never were out of sight or mind. Teddy was so true to his alma mater that it would be no exaggeration to say he knew every day, long into retirement, how Reedsburg had done in every sport.
While driving through Baraboo and Reedsburg a couple weekends ago, we thought a lot about Ted. We again saw those numerous Baraboo homes with tin roofs and chuckled over the times Ted talked about the Beavers pounding dents in their arch-rival—the “Tin Roofers.’’
When that happened, Teddy was in his glory, as he was way back when star guard Jimmy Bohen led the Beavers into the 1961 WIAA open-class state basketball tournament, then went on to a distinguished career at the University of Wisconsin.
We often talked, too, about the memorable days of the early ’50s, when the Beavers’ many tough teams competed against Edgerton, Fort Atkinson, Stoughton and Monroe in the old and respected Southern Ten—long before Teddy ever imagined settling in this area.
Years later, it was tough on Teddy when Janesville Parker and its famed “Rat Patrol” press dropped a 23-5 first quarter on bewildered Reedsburg in the first round of the 1971 state basketball tournament. But he got over it, and he was proud as anybody two days later when the Vikings ruled as “Cinderella” state champions.
As a photographer, Teddy might best have been for known his news photos of fires. After all, he was a former volunteer firefighter at Reedsburg and indeed knew how to be in the right place at the right time.
But when it came to sports, Teddy also was on top of the action. Once, in fact, he was even under it—taken out by a ball carrier and tackler on a sideline play during a high school football game.
This writer had sense enough to stay behind the line of scrimmage and not make it a twosome under the pile at Monterey Stadium. Teddy was right back up, though, and back to the task at hand.
Those tasks and that friendship took us many places. And time and again, Teddy’s sharp shooting caught the action.
One of Ted’s best was a shot of Wisconsin receiver Jeff Mack, just as he caught a downfield pass on a 77-yard touchdown jaunt to shock fourth-ranked Nebraska, 21-20, at Camp Randall Stadium in 1974—still one of the Badgers’ most famous football wins.
Over the years, we’ve continued to rave over Ted’s magnificent head-on shot of Parker junior Tom Arndt coming over the last hurdle in 1977 to become Janesville’s first WIAA individual state track champion in 19 years.
Ted captured it in color—a rarity in those days. But the action was typical of the countless times he helped make our sports section glow.
Quiet and unassuming as he often was, Ted never took credit for the difference he made in people’s lives. But he wasn’t above dropping a famous name in our laps more than once.
Ted was close to Dolph Stanley, the legendary Beloit College and northern Illinois high school coach—inventor of basketball’s fast break, at least in the Midwest. There were stories to be told, and Teddy didn’t hold back.
We didn’t hold back, either, in sharing the good times, especially after a UW football Saturday in Madison. And now we’ve lost a true friend and professional—a real teddy bear.
Similar to the way it is with the late Bernie Barkin and Beloit, we’ll never mention Reedsburg again without thinking of “Teddy Ballgame”—a dear Beaver, who always made our life in the sports world extra special.
Dave Wedeward is The Janesville Gazette sports editor.
Read Gazette reporter Mike DuPre's article on Ted Ninman.