From left, former Amsterdam High School wrestling coach Ken Benton, current AHS assistant coach and former wrestler Dan Palmerino and current coach Ken Pfeiffer are pictured Saturday at the Glens Falls Civic Center. Benton, who retired in 2014, was recognized Saturday as the 2017 Section II Honoree. (Photo submitted)
By ADAM SHINDER
Ken Benton stepped away from wrestling three years ago on the highest of notes, coaching Amsterdam’s Brandon Lapi to a New York state championship in his final match. He still keeps close tabs on the Amsterdam High School wrestling program he guided for 21 years, but it’s never the same.
“When I stepped away, I’m the kind of person where I have a hard time coming in and helping out now and then,” Benton said. “I’m the kind of person that I either do it all-in, or I’m not. Every time I go into the wrestling room, I see these kids and go, ‘Geez, I should be in here every day trying to help them,’ and I just can’t make it every day. That holds me back.”
Plenty of memories came flowing back for Benton Saturday night, when he took the floor at the Glens Falls Civic Center prior to the finals of the Section II Wrestling Championships as the 2017 Section II Honoree. The lifetime achievement award is handed out annually by the Section II Wrestling Executive Committee, which dedicates the championship program to an individual who has made a major impact in the Capital Region wrestling community.
Benton, a Section II Wrestling Hall of Fame member who won 334 dual meets during his coaching career, was humbled by the honor.
“I was extremely humbled to be selected by my peers. A lot of my peers are members of the Section II Wrestling Executive Committee, which I was part of for over 20 years,” Benton said. “I got a lot of busting and poking fun at me — probably because I’m getting old. It was a real nice honor and a humbling experience for me to be able to speak and introduce my family and to accept the award that they gave.
“It brought back a lot of memories. A lot of friends that I’ve crossed paths with over a long period of time, and every one of them somehow has contributed to my career in some way or another. Crossing paths with them, they’ve shared a lot of different things, and I was just appreciative to share a part of their lives.”
A 1974 graduate of Johnstown High School who won a Section II Class B championship in his senior wrestling season, Benton went on to wrestle in college at both Fulton-Montgomery Community College and SUNY Brockport. After graduating from Brockport, he served as the head wrestling coach at both Johnstown and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before completing his master’s degree and taking a teaching and coaching position at Amsterdam.
There, he served under legendary Rams coach Pat Reilly for six years before taking the reins of the Amsterdam varsity program in 1993. In 21 seasons with the Rams, Benton’s teams won 13 Big 10 league championships and a pair of Section II Class B titles while producing 30 individual Class B champions and 16 Section II champions. He guided three wrestlers to state championships — his son Brian Benton won a public school state title in 2008, while Giuseppi Lanzi in 2010 and Brandon Lapi in 2014 won both the public school and Federation crowns. He also guided Rob Morey in 2008 and Lapi in 2013 to appearances in the state finals.
For his part, Benton gave much of the credit to the people he surrounded himself with throughout his career, including Reilly and longtime coaching associates Ken Pfeiffer, Rich Allen, Stu Palczak, Paul Ochal and George Bowman.
“You get to express that if you’ve had some measure of success, it isn’t just you. For me, for example, I wasn’t just a coach, I had a staff of highly-qualified, experienced people — some more experienced than I was, most of them probably better than me,” Benton said. “I had myself surrounded by great people. You can’t help but pick that up, make it a part of you and put it to good use. Coaching was my outlet.”
Though he’s kept busy since his retirement in 2014, Benton left the door open to playing a larger role in helping out the AHS wrestling program in the future — on a part-time basis.
“The funny thing is, when I retired, I got very busy and I’m still doing a lot of other types of other activities. You can’t believe where I ever found the time to teach and coach,” he said. “That’s the interesting thing about retirement, and retirement’s taught me a few things. But, it’s something where I feel like if I can contribute to the future of the program, I’d be more than happy to do that. I just have to accept that I might not be able to do it full time. I’m no spring chicken, but I might be able to get back down on the mat and show a few things, talk to them and get into their heads, motivate and inspire them if I can.”˙