Benton's parting gift: A state champion

By ADAM SHINDER

adam.shinder@recordernews.com

ALBANY -- Ken Benton's last match as the varsity wrestling coach at Amsterdam High School didn't end without more than its fair share of drama, but when it was all over, Benton could pinpoint the moment he knew his career would end in celebration.

When Amsterdam's Brandon Lapi received a penalty point to take a 4-2 lead in the second 30-second overtime match of his 138-pound final against MacArthur's Justin Cooksey Saturday at the Times Union Center, Benton could sense that in his final match, a state champion was crowned under his watch.

"It starts to become a little academic at that point, strategically on the mat," Benton said.

Benton's storied coaching career that featured 334 dual-meet victories had a storybook ending Saturday night, as Lapi's 6-3 championship victory gave Benton his second state champion in a career that spanned nearly 30 years, joining Giuseppi Lanzi in 2010.

After it was over, Benton could only relay his gratitude to the wrestlers, coaches and community members who have been a part of his career.

"I've been pretty fortunate to have some great people," he said. "I appreciate everyone's support all these years."

One of only two head coaches in the nearly 50-year history over the AHS wrestling program along with Pat Reilly, Benton said it was fitting that his career came to a close with the crowning achievement of Lapi, a lifelong product of the Rams' program who went from a young wrestler to the most decorated grappler in Amsterdam history.

"I can remember when he was young, coming up through the program, and he looked up to many of the older wrestlers." Benton said. "My wife and I were just talking the other day about how the roles have turned now. Now, the kids in the pee-wee program are here watching him, and he's inspiring these young kids that are going in the pee-wee programs and the younger levels.

"He's been an inspiration even for all the coaches. He's a leader, he's a force, he's a presence in the room."

Lapi, a frequent hunting and fishing partner of Benton's, was happy to be able to bring his coach's career to a close in the best possible fashion.

"He's worked so hard, too," said Lapi, who was the only Section II wrestler to win a state championship this weekend. "All my coaches have worked really hard, and they deserve everything. I'm just thankful I had great coaches."

A few years ago, the Rams' practice space at Lynch Literacy Academy was dubbed the Patrick H. Reilly Hall of Fame Wrestling Room.

At some point, they might need to find some room to stick another name on there.

Follow ADAM SHINDER on Twitter at twitter.com/RecorderShinder