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Chico State

Fond Farwell: Physical Education Professor Emeritus Betty Best

Creek waters flow on a college campus with a tree canopy hanging overhead.
Jason Halley

Big Chico Creek flows through campus on Wednesday, October 27, 2021 in Chico, Calif. (Jason Halley/University Photographer/Chico State)

Betty Best, professor of physical education for more than three decades, long-time Chico State tennis coach, and vital supporter of local athletics, passed away January 6. She was 87.

Best taught at Chico State for 34-and-a-half years and coached the tennis team for nine. She’s remembered by her students and peers as a gifted educator, loyal friend, and talented competitor.

Born August 26, 1935, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Best was a naturally impressive athlete. When the first Canadian National Field Hockey Team was assembled to take part in the 1956 International Women’s Tournament in Australia, Best was the second youngest member selected. She returned to Australia years later as a representative of the United States Field Hockey Association’s Pacific Southwest Team, which she was chosen for 10 times between 1960 and 1972.

Best was also a renowned runner and tennis player. In the 1960s, was selected to play on the Pacific Northwest Tennis Tour. In 1976, Best was the No. 10 ranked masters level runner in the nation and qualified for the Boston Marathon.

“Everybody thought of her as ‘Sweet Betty Jean,’ but she was fiercely competitive as well as fiercely humble,” said former Chico State Track and Field Coach Deanne Vochatzer. “She was a phenomenal athlete. She was tenacious. There was never ‘quit’ in Betty Jean Best. Never. Once she started something she was all in.”

Best began her career in education as a high school counselor and teacher. Asked by the principal to coach the boys’ tennis team, she convinced him to start a girls’ program as well.

Best never stopped starting programs. She introduced after-school sports to Chico’s elementary schools in 1967 and got similar programs off the ground in the junior high schools soon after. In 1969, Best represented Chico State on the Northern California Women’s Intercollegiate Council, a catalyst in the formation of intercollegiate athletics for women at Chico State and throughout the nation. Heavily involved in the local tennis community and a member of the Chico Racquet Club, Best is credited with launching numerous tennis tournaments in the area for all ages.

Hired September 1, 1965, as an associate professor at Chico State, Best was promoted to professor on August 28, 1979. She retired on May 29, 1998, and participated in the Faculty Early Retirement Program until January 20, 2000. She coached the women’s tennis program from 1965–1974.

Vochatzer and Patricia Smiley benefitted from Best’s teaching and mentorship first as students and later as fellow faculty members. They both described her as generous and kind.

“I hear her name and it puts a smile on my face,” said Vochatzer. “As a young female student-athlete in the late 60s, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for me. Then I took a tennis class from Betty and discovered someone who would always encourage and support me.”

Vochatzer qualified for the track and field nationals as a senior but did not have the funding to go. Best and her tennis team took coffee cans to the coffee house on campus and raised money for her trip.

“It was something I’ll never forget,” Vochatzer said. “She was always positive. She wouldn’t let people be negative. That was her amazing grace.”

Smiley was impacted by Best’s teaching acumen and her empowering style of mentorship.

“It was amazing to watch her teach. She was always very generous, helpful, and good-spirited,” Smiley said. “I was fortunate to have a number of amazing women mentors when I started, and Betty was one of them.”

Sam Simmons took Best’s badminton class once, twice, and then a third time.

“She was a great teacher. The way she could explain the game you were playing was special, teaching theories and lessons along the way,” Simmons said. “She was so clever and well-versed in explaining angles and what you were trying to do. I never did beat her in badminton, even though I tried. I tried all the time.”

Best was inducted into the Chico State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Chico Community Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2021, Best and her teammates from the 1956 Canadian National Team were inducted into the Field Hockey Canada Hall of Fame.

No services are currently planned. The University flag will be lowered in her memory Thursday, February 2. Read more about Betty Best through the words of those who knew her.