by Tim Nash|
Internetsoccer.com Senior Editor
(reprinted by permission)
(May 21) -- Every community, at least those serious about their soccer, has a person who goes to great lengths so others can play.
It's the guy who seems to constantly be on the field or behind the scenes, doing things that no one else wants to do - things like keeping the registration files, mowing grass, lining fields, making schedules, finding refs, organizing clinics and volunteers and parents, and spending his own money on things necessary for kids to be able to play soccer.
This is the guy who everyone knows but rarely thanks. It's the person everyone takes for granted, someone so competent and committed that others gladly stand by while he does all the work. It's the person people with complaints search out, but the same guy those with compliments can never seem to locate.
In Oswego, N.Y., a city of somewhere around 19,000, that person was Mr. B. Sure, every community has a Mr. B, but I'll put the real Mr. B up against any of them.
For over four decades, he devoted nearly all of his personal time and part of his professional time to youth soccer. He asked for help and was often turned down. He never wanted to be thanked, but took tremendous satisfaction from seeing fields full of kids kicking soccer balls.
A physical educator and college professor by trade, Mr. B did everything he thought best for his soccer community.
And from that youth soccer community came doctors, lawyers, tradesmen, parents, teachers, coaches, and one chief technology officer of internetsoccer.com, Steve Amedio, and one internetsoccer.com senior editor, me. Many of these people have gone on to have an effect on the lives of one generation of soccer youths or another. And also from that community came three outstanding citizens - his sons, Mike, Tom and Scott.
Soccer players from Mr. B's community have gone on to play in college - probably a disproportionate number given its size. They enjoyed various levels of success at different tiers of the NCAA ladder. None will ever forget Mr. B, nor will they forget what they learned from him.
They learned that it was a game, not a life-or-death set of circumstances. They learned to have fun, try their hardest, and to come back and do it all over again ... and again.
Richard Benjamin - better known as Mr. B - died May 19. He was 70.
Thirty-five or so years ago, Mr. B was my first soccer coach. And while he was not the largest influence on my soccer life - that would be my father and older brother Marty - he gave me the first opportunity to play. He provided the same opportunity to thousands and thousands of kids in his little corner of the soccer world.
He eventually founded the Oswego Youth Soccer Association, and he continued as the driving force behind the game in Oswego and Central New York until his death.
He never tired of his work and seemed oddly immune to the sometimes ridiculous and nasty politics we have all grown to despise in youth soccer. First and always, it was about the kids and the game.
Mr. B is the reason there is youth soccer in Oswego today, and if he were reading this he would disagree. He shied from credit and preferred to stay in the background. Others came along and took up important roles in the growth of the game, but they always operated in the considerable shadow of Richard Benjamin, one he never purposely cast.
As independent and important as those leaders believed themselves to be, they sooner or later turned to Mr. B for assistance or advice. The ones who remain in charge of the OYSA today need to understand that they are caretakers of what Mr. B created. All they need to do is continue with the model already in place.
Mr. B built soccer in Oswego literally from scratch. As a physical education teacher at the Campus School, Mr. B, a graduate of the State University of New York in Brockport, taught soccer in gym classes. He was the only one in the seven-school community that bothered with the sport.
In 1969, we played soccer in gym class and after-school intramurals. We had brown balls -- a combination, I think, of leather, rubber and probably cement. We knocked those balls around on a field consisting of dirt, dying grass and more dirt while other elementary schools played flag football.
The extent of the instruction to the third- and fourth-graders was "Don't let me see the sole of your sneakers when you kick it."
But there was much more to Mr. B's soccer knowledge. He was a sponge for new information, and he had the unique ability to bring back graduates of his programs who had gone on to play at higher levels to teach the next generation.
Once we reached middle school age, there was still no youth soccer program in Oswego. But looking back now, I can understand that Mr. B was headed in that direction. In sixth grade, we had a school team. We played four games because there were two other schools in a three-county radius that had soccer. We played each twice. Mr. B was all about opportunity. If it didn't exist, he went out and made it exist.
I doubt many would call Dick Benjamin a visionary, but when it came to soccer he definitely had a plan. The Oswego Youth Soccer Association didn't just happen overnight. It started with those little four-game seasons.
When the time came for Oswego High School to field a soccer team, the bulk of that first team consisted of Mr. B's kids from the Campus School.
By most people, Mr. B will be remembered as the founder of the OYSA. To those who know, he will be remembered as much, much more. It bothers me beyond belief that I did not write this article 10 years ago. Why do we always wait for people to die before we pay tribute to them? So excuse me when I say this article is way overdue and in no way can do justice to what Richard Benjamin meant to a community.
A person like Mr. B has an enormous range of influence. And I doubt he - or the people who came through his programs -- ever fully understood the magnitude of what he was doing. This was a person liked and respected by everyone with whom he came in contact, and from that comes an impact that may continue - directly and indirectly -- for years.
It's obvious to me that Mr. B will influence at least five generations of people. When I was 15, I coached a youth team in a program that didn't exist until then. When I was 18 and 19, I worked as an instructor in his day camps.
How many of the kids I taught on those summer mornings 50 yards from Lake Ontario, have gone on to coach soccer, I'll never know. But I learned from Dick Benjamin, they learned from me, they taught some more, those kids taught another age group, and it goes on and on and on. There are 10 year olds and 45 year olds out there who fondly remember what Mr. B accomplished in their lives.
In the early days of organized soccer in Oswego, there were only a handful of people who made things happen. By the time I was 16, with the help of Mr. B, I had organized an adult team that would play in a league out of Syracuse, 45 minutes away. Included in my duties was hanging the nets, lining the field, playing sweeper, storing the balls, nets and field liner, and mowing the sidelines in hopes the ref would be able to see the lines,
While I had one little corner of the South Athletic Field on the campus of SUNY Oswego to worry about, Mr. B had the four other ones to take care of. I would gripe and moan about mowing and lining a field, until I looked up and saw Mr. B doing the same. The difference, I later realized, was I did it because I wanted to play. Mr. B did it because he wanted hundreds of kids to play.
In my job as a soccer journalist, I hear the term "For the Good of the Game" thrown around several times a month. Those words nearly always ring hollow and stir a certain amount of contempt in me for the group using them.
I know what "For the Good of the Game" means because I knew Richard Benjamin. It has nothing to do with politics and expensive developmental programs, or coaches who call themselves trainers. It has nothing to do with what kind of shoes players buy or wear, or owning a $100 ball or chasing a scholarship offer. It has nothing to do with Select or Challenge, or Surf Cups, Gold Cups or even World Cups.
It has everything to do with kids having fun. It's about kicking hard brown balls on dirt fields. It has everything to do with having a garage filled with nets and bags of lime, and spending time trying to refurbish balls, and gathering volunteers when you are one yourself.
It's all about your phone ringing night and day with questions and requests ranging from urgent, to silly, from meaningful to idiotic. It has everything to do with having the sunset on you while you are chalking a penalty area, or fighting for the use of a precious school field so hundreds of kids can have a place to play.
And it has everything to do with people like Mr. B.
For more information on the memorial fund being established in honor or Richard Benjamin, contact Anthony Richmond at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send requests to
Mr. B Memorial Fund