I still remember the grainy black and white film Guilderland football coach Bud Kenyon would show his teams that highlighted small but pesky running back Ron DiBenedetti.
DiBenedetti was a favorite of Bud’s because of his tremendous desire to succeed. Bad back and all, he did just that, earning a lasting place in Dutchmen grid lore as a two-time team most valuable player in 1967 and 1968.
Coach gushed when speaking of DiBenedetti, who used his strength and agility to excel as a pole vaulter and wrestler as well as an award-winning football runner who never went down easy.
Bud used that film of DiBenedetti breaking tackles and lunging for extra yards as one of his many tools to inspire his players, and as one of them on his 1979 team, it really sunk in. I was already a pretty motivated kid by the time I reached my senior year, but that film just added more juice as I strived to reach my own goals.
It is true that sports can teach life lessons, and I thanked Kenyon for his message of grit and perseverance — and his support — just about every time we spoke in the years after my graduation in 1980. I wish I could do that one more time and share a laugh with him. The man I, and so many others, proudly call “Coach” died Christmas morning at the age of 93 at his home in Greenwich surrounded by family.
Since then I’ve thought about Bud, the former coach and phys ed teacher at Oriskany, Hoosick Falls and Greenwich as well as Guilderland, quite a bit. Even before his passing, I was reminded of him in a smaller sense every day in the form of the Guilderland 1979 “Player with the Greatest Desire to Improve” trophy I earned playing for his team, a keepsake that still stands in my living room all these decades later.
The trophy itself is special to me because it represents effort, and I have always considered myself an effort guy, and because it was presented to me by a mentor for whom I had so much respect and adoration. Of course, it also brings back all of those fond memories of my playing days.
I never asked Bud just why he chose me for that award, and come to think of it, I’m not exactly sure when we last chatted and reminisced, though, I know it was either two or three summers ago. I do recall one of our first conversations of any length, though, when, as a senior, I was writing a story for the high school paper about the difficulty coaches have in cutting players. I learned a lot about Bud’s thought process with that one, and I specifically remember him talking about surrounding himself with quality people as one of the keys to his success.
I also recall spending quite some time on the phone with the former Section II football chairman when I was writing a story about DiBenedetti’s posthumous induction into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame in 2012. DiBenedetti died at the age of 25 in an auto accident, and a monument in his honor rests in front of Guilderland High School.
“Wherever I coached, I was blessed with a stable of good running backs,” Bud had told me at the time. “He had to be No. 1. He just stood out in so many ways. I’m so proud I got to know that young man.”
Bud had nominated his former star rushing and scoring leader for the hall of fame honor, which he himself had enjoyed in 2010 as a member of its inaugural class.
Standout among Bud’s hall of fame work was his 16-year run at Guilderland where he never fielded a losing team, including my team that went 4-4, and his final edition in 1980 that went 7-1-1.
What I remember more than who we beat and who we lost to during my senior year, though, were the practices leading up to those games because, as a 5-foot-9, 150-pound backup safety and wide receiver, that’s where I had the most fun and made my highlight plays. While I worked hard to get more game time, my role as a reserve was to help make the starters better during the week as a scout team member.
I took that role seriously, and it turns out I got better in a lot of ways with Bud’s urging, which brings me back to the big red and silver trophy in my living room. I received that from Coach at our year-end football banquet, and though I gave my best on the field, I never saw something so prestigious coming. The coolest thing I remember Bud saying was something akin to, “He was like a snake lying in the grass and then he would strike.” I did like to hit, and I still get a kick out of that.
That night I was accompanied by my dad, Sylvester, who had told me afterward that he was equally surprised when I got the trophy, and awfully proud (I think he bragged a bit to some of the other fathers at his table). My dad is a big work ethic guy who I credit for spawning mine, and he didn’t get to a lot of games, which made that night extra special for the both of us. He still mentions it to this day.
For that, and so much more: Thanks, Coach.
Schiltz was a high school staff sportswriter for decades prior to retiring last summer. He remains a frequent contributor to The Daily Gazette.
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Categories: High School Sports, Sports