If Ken Benton ran track, he’d be the perfect guy for one of the two middle spots on a relay squad.
The retiring Amsterdam wrestling coach took the baton from program founder Pat Reilly, and 20 years later has made significant gains as he prepares to hand off to an as yet unnamed successor.
“I’ve learned from some great coaches, had some great mentors,” said Benton, who is hoping his final postseason, which begins with today’s Division 1 Class 2 tournament at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, ends with senior Brandon Lapi winning a state championship. “I wrestled for Art Recesso [at Johnstown], Don Murray [Brockport] and was an assistant for Pat Reilly. Those three men, and Joe DeMeo, have been a great influence on me.”
Benton took over for Reilly in 1993, and saw his team win 334 matches. The last of those, fittingly, came at Johnstown, his alma mater.
“It was their senior night, and after Joe [Sir Bills coach Joe Morrison] introduced all of his seniors, he took time to acknowledge that I was retiring, and said some really nice things. It was just a tremendous thing to do, and completely took me by surprise,”
Lapi is the latest in a line of successful wrestlers that dates back to when Reilly was in charge. Should he advance to the state tournament, he would give Amsterdam a participant in that event for the ninth straight year.
The senior, who recently committed to the Univerity of Buffalo, is gunning for his fifth class title today, and a fifth Section II championship next weekend, Lapi has had three top-six finishes at the state tournament, getting to the finals last year.
Benton’s son, Brian, began the program’s run of state tourney appearances with a fifth-place effort in 2006, and improved his finish each of the next two years.
Rob Morey also was a finalist in 2008; John Paris placed sixth in 2009; 2010 state champ Giuseppi Lanzi also won a state bronze; and James Marquez took a third in 2013.
“That’s something we’re proud of, that eight-year run we’re on,” Benton said. “But the biggest thing is that I hope we’ve made a difference in some kids’ lives, whether they’ve gone on into the military, gone on to college, whatever they’ve chosen to do.
“A lot of them come back and want to be part of the program.”
Lapi will break Brian Benton’s record of 253 career wins the first time his hand is raised today at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School.
The hosts and Queensbury should also be in the title picture, Burnt Hills has four returning champs, led by two-time winners Joey Butler and Jake Ashcraft.
Columbia and Shenendehowa are likely headed for a showdown at the Division 1 Class 1 meet at Shaker,.
Three-time champ Nick Gallo, and his Schalmont teammates will try to outscore Hudson Falls and Albany Academy at the Division 2 Class 2 tournament at Glens Falls.
Dunesburg’s Connor Lawrence is after his fourth title, and Salem’s Carter Merecki is shooting for his fifth, at the Division 2 Class 3 meet in Warrensburg,
The top six place finishers in each weight from the two tourneys , and top four from the three small-school tournaments, go on to the state qualifiers next weekend at the Glens Falls Civic Center.