Monday night, February 23rd, at a public meeting, Benson’s Principal Curtis Wilson announced that Benson would try a different approach to rebuild its football program. In recent years there has been a small turnout for football and Benson has had to use an inordinate number of undersized and young players to fill out a varsity team. Wilson and Benson’s athletic director Sanjay Bedi have become increasingly concerned about the almost inevitability of serious injuries occurring. So, in the interest of safety and to try a different model for creating a strong program, Benson will focus on its Junior Varsity teams for this fall. Benson will not field a varsity team for the Portland Interscholastic League’s (PIL) 2015 season.
This past season Benson had less than 60 players turn out for its varsity and junior varsity football teams combined. (Less than 40 players finished the season.) Many Portland schools in Portland have that many players on their varsity team. Almost half of Benson’s varsity was 14 and 15 year-old freshman and sophomores playing against larger and more experienced 17 and 18 year-old juniors and seniors. On the average, Benson teams were outweighed by about 15 pounds and the difference was even bigger among linemen. A large number of the Benson starters also played both offense and defense leading to fatigue and mistakes especially in the second half of games. The end result has been that, despite sustained and determined good efforts by the players, Benson has won only one game in the past three seasons. (During that time Benson’s Junior Varsity also has lost more games than winning.) Not a good situation for morale and increasing player turnout.
Wilson strongly emphasized that this decision was not the first step in eliminating football at Benson. He was a strong supporter of athletics and wants Benson to have a team. It is simply a new approach to create a viable, competitive football program. He and Bedi believe by having Benson’s predominately younger players to play against like aged and skilled players of other Portland schools for a season or two that they can better develop their skills, have positive playing experiences, and a record of success to provide a core set of players for Benson to eventually successfully compete at the varsity level.
Marshall Haskins, the District’s athletic director and PIL head attended the meeting and concurred in Wilson’s approach. He added that as far as he was concerned there would be football at Benson as long as Benson students wanted to play football, and he would be offering his continued support.
Pursuing this “new model”, Benson will hire a new coaching staff for its Junior Varsity teams that will focus as much on team and program building as coaching for individual games. Marshall Haskins has promised funding for a full coaching staff, a weight building program, assistance in scheduling a full season of games, and improved access to Buckman Field for practice and several home games — perhaps one or more “under lights”. In taking this approach, Wilson and Bedi hope to improve Benson student-athlete football experience as well as their safety while practicing and playing. For those returning seniors from the 2014 season, they will petition the League for a waiver to “play down” and a chance to win a letter in the 2015 season. To help Benson in its effort, Haskins indicated that these waiver requests will receive a sympathetic review.
A panel of Benson athletic director and coaches, parents, and other experienced resources will be set up prior to the 2015 season to establish criteria for judging the program’s competiveness. These criteria are likely to include safety, competiveness, numbers and positions. At the end of the season, and on an annual basis, the panel will judge whether it would recommend to the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) reinstituting a varsity program— or whether that should be delayed another year