Bennett looks back on 49 years of coaching
BY ANDY KRUTSINGER
Mt. Pleasant News
Nobody has seen more Mt. Pleasant athletic events over the past 50 years than Kent Bennett.
Bennett has coached multiple sports at Mt. Pleasant over the past 49 years and has been coaching football during each year.
Bennett, who taught exercise science and drivers education during his time at Mt. Pleasant, retired from coaching in the Fall of 2015.
The native of St. Louis says he was fortunate to learn from a great group of coaches in his time in Mt. Pleasant, especially the late Bob Evans.
“He was kind of a guru,” said Bennett of Evans. “He’s an unbelievable coach. You just learn from somebody who has that much knowledge. It was a lot of fun.”
Evans was the head football coach in 1967 when Bennett first came to Mt. Pleasant. Since then he has coached with every Panther head football coach.
Bennett has 22 years of head coaching experience with the baseball team and assisted with the basketball team for 35 years.
Bennett’s main head coaching job on the gridiron has been with the seventh-grade football team. After coaching the freshmen from 1968-1982, Bennett became the head coach of the seventh-grade Panthers from 1983-2015.
Bennett says his main goal as the seventh-grade coach was to make sure each kid was out on the field to gain some valuable experience.
“You’ve got offense, defense, kickoff and kickoff receive. Everybody on the team will have a starting position at one of the four spots,” he says. “Everybody plays. That was our main goal.”
His other main goal was to initiate the “B” game, giving the middle school Panthers two games on game days instead of one. He says it’s a great way to make sure every player gets a shot to play.
“At that level, some kids worry about, ‘well I’m on the A team (or) the B team.’ You can’t worry about that,” Bennett says. “At that level, you’ve got to play.”
According to unofficial numbers given to him by Evans, Bennett finished with a 70-37-8 record as freshman coach and a 131-44-4 record with the seventh-grade Panthers. In his 22-years as head baseball coach, he went 319-287.
Bennett also spoke about one of the best teams in Mt. Pleasant history, the state champion 2011-12 Panther boys’ basketball team.
Bennett had promised the Panthers before the state tournament that he would let them give him a mohawk if they took the state title, and when banquet time came, he paid up on the deal.
“You couldn’t believe the looks on their face when I came in after that last game,” Bennett laughed. “The job they did on it wasn’t too good, so Caleb Akey, who has a talent at haircutting, kind of trimmed it a bit.”
Bennett also joked about how the new haircut pushed back a vacation he had planned on taking after the tournament.
“We were supposed to go on a cruise as soon as basketball season was over,” he recalled. “My wife says, ‘You’re not going on a cruise until you grow it out a bit. I’m not gonna have people on the ship saying look at that old man with a Mohawk!’”
Bennett also praised the success of the Mt. Pleasant athletic system, which has churned out a handful of college and professional coaches during his 49 years. He says the credit can be given to Panther athletic directors, Evans, Bob Jensen and Scot Lamm.
“To get the programs established and run right, you have to have stability,” Bennett said. “And that’s what we’ve had all the time.”
He says the hiring of long term coaches and good teachers has helped the community grow with good athletic teams and great kids.
“When people are hired here as coaches, they’re not only hired for athletics, but they are hired for their teaching ability as well,” Bennett says. “I think the athletic directors and principals have done a great job at doing that.”
Bennett can still be found at almost every Panther sporting event. He is a color commentator and stat keeper for KILJ radio, where he has called 34 years of football and 13 years of basketball.
Bennett says he made it to all of the middle school football games this season. Although he says the time had come to retire, he can’t help but wish he was out on the field.
“You know what? I miss it. I miss it big time,” he said. “Coaching those kids was so much fun. I miss the game strategy and calling plays, and just the kids in general…the only thing I don’t miss are the bus rides.”