Going out in style

Jun. 02, 2014 @ 04:34 PM

The year 1984 was made memorable long before it happened by George Orwell’s novel looking toward a future of sophisticated totalitarianism.

The year itself saw Carl Lewis win four gold medals at the Summer Olympics, Martina Navritilova and John McEnroe win Wimbledon championships, Michael Jackson win eight Grammy awards and Ronald Reagan crush Walter Mondale to win his second term in the White House.

And that year, Ron Benson became the coach of the Chapel Hill High School girls’ soccer team. Many parents of today’s high school students may well still have been in grade school.

In the 30 years since, Benson has mentored hundreds of young women, paced many a sideline and won almost 400 soccer matches.

But one big win eluded him. In all those years, his teams never even made it to the state championship game.

Until this year.

Then, in a storybook ending fit for an inspirational movie, this year’s team gave him the greatest retirement gift for which he could have hoped. They beat Weddington High School – from Waxhaw, near Charlotte – to claim the school’s first-ever girls soccer championship.

“If you had told me to write the story, I probably wouldn’t have written it this way,” said Benson, who is 73 and will hang up his whistle June 13. 

You don’t coach for 30 years without developing a certain resilience. Even though the Tigers trailed 1-0 at the half, Benson said afterward he was confident. “We just have good players,” he said. “We tell them just go back and play our game …We always have faith through our girls. This is a special team.”

And, we suspect they would add, a special coach who understates his role in helping the team figure out a way to counter an unusual Warrior offense.

In any event, Chapel Hill finally tied the score at 1-1 with just under 27 minutes left in the match – then scored what turned out to be the game-winner with just 1:33 to play.

Benson and his team celebrated together after the win, and senior Megan Dell probably spoke for all her teammates. “As a player, you’re doing it for your coach, your doing it for your teammates, you’re doing it for your family, you’re doing it for your school…”

Saturday, we suspect, that part about doing it for the coach was especially and rewardingly true.

For his part, Benson said he might come back from time to time as a volunteer, “if they want me to come help them with drills in practice or something.”

But mostly, he’s looking forward to a different challenge.

“I grew up surfing and haven’t been able to do it as much as I wanted to, but now I’m going to,” he said Saturday.

He surely has earned the right to pursue his neglected hobby. And we congratulate him and the Tigers for sending him on his way with a richly deserved state championship trophy.