THE BIG PICTURE: Former USOC Executive Director Baaron Pittenger passes at 95

Baaron Pittenger, Jr. (1925-2021). (Photo: USOC Fact Book 1987)

Baaron Pittenger, Jr., whose long career in sports included two stints as Executive Director of the United States Olympic Committee, passed away at age 95 on 15 January 2021.

The notice of his death was posted by the Swan-Law Funeral Directors in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He followed his wife of 72 years, Anne, who passed in September 2019 (at 92) and their son, Baaron III, who died of cancer in 2016 at 55. He is survived by his daughter-in-law Sara Thompson Pittenger, and grandson Baaron Steven Pittenger.

Pittenger came to the USOC in 1977 after a very successful career in collegiate athletics, having served as the Sports Information Director at Brown University from 1955-59 and at Harvard University from 1959-70, then as Associate Director of Athletics from 1970-77.

He was hired by Executive Director Don Miller to come west to Colorado as the USOC moved from its long-time New York office on Park Avenue to abandoned Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Pittenger was initially the Director of Special Events, but quickly was assisting former Olympic decathlon champion Bob Mathias in the renovation of the base.

“It was a mess,” Pittenger recalled to the Denver Post in 2008. “There was chain-link fence with barbed wire all around the area. The base had been abandoned for a while, and many of the buildings were unusable. There was an awful lot of work to be done to refurbish the usable buildings just to bring them up to reasonable standards.

“In one instance, the light fixture in a building we were looking at suddenly caught on fire. That pretty much was the state of things.”

Not only did the base become functional as office space, it was turned into the United States Olympic Training Center and has been continuously expanded to include dining, sports medicine and National Governing Body headquarters.

Beyond the rehabilitation of the base, Pittenger was the organizer of the first National Sport Festival in 1978, a project designed to give American athletes a summer competition in the United States and a taste of what an Olympic or Pan American Games experience would feel like. Some 1,803 athletes attended the first Festival, expanding to 2,125 in Colorado Springs in 1979, televised to a national audience on NBC, which had the U.S. rights to the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

By 1981, Pittenger had become the USOC’s Assistant Executive Director, responsible for many more departments and remained in that position when Don Miller retired in 1985 and was replaced by George Miller (no relation). When the latter resigned in August 1987, Pittenger became Executive Director through the end of the year when Harvey Schiller took over as Executive Director.

But Schiller returned to his prior post as Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference on 21 January 1988 and Pittenger once again became Executive Director.

This time, he served all of 1988 and 1989, with Schiller returning to take over at the beginning of 1991.

Pittenger was competent, very competent. Approachable. Gentle. Considerate. Calm. A very good listener. A consensus builder. More comfortable behind the scenes than in front of a camera, although he was good when needed. Clear-thinking, he said “no” often, but always with a kind manner.

The USOC was in a significant growth period during his tenure as interest in the U.S. of all things Olympic grew following the success of the 1980 Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid and the revolutionary 1984 Games in Los Angeles. His National Sports Festival had expanded dramatically into the United States Olympic Festival, held in larger U.S. cities such as Houston, Raleigh-Durham, Oklahoma City and Minneapolis.

Pittenger left the USOC and became Executive Director of USA Hockey from 1990-93, and chaired the USOC’s anti-doping committee from 1994-2000 before really retiring in Colorado Springs.

Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 15 July 1925, but raised in Connecticut, Pittenger had come a long way since attending Penn State (‘47) and then working as a reporter in Williamsport, Pennsylvania and Hartford, Connecticut, before moving to Brown. He was a member of the NCAA Public Relations Committee from 1959-65 and chair of the committee in his last two years.

Those who knew Pittenger described him as a “great gentleman”; his easygoing, understated manner overshadowed his insight and ability to create a cohesive executive team while asserting a calming influence on the U.S. Olympic Movement during a time of great change.

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