SCOREBOARD By Jim Hague Getting another chance to coach
Apr 04, 2006 | 1547 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After working his way through the coaching ranks, with stops at places like St. Peter's Prep, his alma mater Hoboken, then Passaic Valley, Chipper Benway figured he stumbled into his dream job when he was named the head football coach and athletic director at Hudson Catholic a few years ago.

Benway was young, barely approaching his 30th birthday. He was eager, enthusiastic and energetic. He seemed to be the perfect package for an athletic program that was in dire need of an injection of life and vitality. It appeared to be a perfect fit, both for Benway and for Hudson Catholic.

Unfortunately, things didn't work out well for Benway at the school located on McGinley Square. The powers-that-be at Hudson Catholic didn't appreciate Benway's style and approach and he was unceremoniously sent packing in favor of Rob Stern, who was once the football coach at the school and came back from St. Peter's College to take both of Benway's responsibilities.

It's not easy when you get removed from a position that you expected to remain for a lifetime. You don't just necessarily bounce right back. There aren't a bunch of people lined up outside your door begging for your services. The assumption is that you had to have done something wrong to get bounced. So schools tend to shy away instead of being welcoming. The proverbial doors were being shut in Benway's face - and he had no idea why.

"I absolutely started to doubt myself," Benway said. "When I removed from Hudson Catholic, I started to ask myself what I could have done better or what I could have done differently. I didn't know if I would ever get another chance again. It was rough there for a while."

In his own words, Benway said that he "bounced around" to a few places, as an assistant football coach at Dickinson and then two football seasons as Joe Rotondi's assistant at Union Hill.

But through it all, Benway always felt that he might have been best served as a baseball coach.

"I got my first chance to coach in baseball," said Benway, whose career as a coach began in 1993, when he was named the junior varsity coach at St. Peter's Prep. "As a JV coach, you're out there by yourself. You're the pitching coach, the catching instructor and the hitting coach all wrapped into one. It's basically a one-man show out there. You really learn to become an all-around baseball coach on that level."

Benway said that he loved being around the game.

"There are some who coach the game of high school baseball just to manage," Benway said. "What I enjoy is the teaching. Sure, the strategy is important, having to make the right calls to steal or hit-and-run. But I like the teaching in baseball. Once I got the AD job [at Hudson Catholic], the baseball career was put on hold. I felt removed from the game."

But last year, Benway got the itch to resume the baseball coaching career. When the opportunity was presented to him, Benway became Henry Sanchez' assistant at Union Hill.

When Sanchez decided to step down after a disappointing season in 2005, it was only natural that Benway should get elevated to the top spot. And with it came his chance to be a head coach once again. It might have taken almost four years and there were some bumps along the way, but Benway's back and has his own program.

However, it's not like he inherited the Taj Mahal in taking over the Hillers. The Union Hill baseball program has been downtrodden for a long time. The highest win total the Hillers enjoyed in recent years has been eight. Benway's not going to turn the tide overnight.

"It's going to be a challenge to get these kids to perform to my expectations," Benway said. "I had a good number of kids come to tryouts. I was fearful that since I hadn't been a head coach for a while that I wasn't up to date and I might be missing something. The game has evolved a lot."

So Benway's first move was to hire Brian Cardino, who was the head baseball coach at Hudson Catholic last year. Cardino stepped down from Hudson Catholic at season's end to take another full-time baseball position, but has since returned to coaching locally.

"He's been a huge help in terms of mechanics and drills," Benway said.

Benway was encouraged with the eagerness of the players.

"They enjoy playing the game," Benway said. "They're willing to learn. It's not a problem with them willing to learn. The problem is that you shouldn't be doing a lot of teaching on the varsity level. But we are. The primary challenge is getting these kids ready to play on a varsity level."

But Benway is confident that the Hillers can become competitive down the road.

"If I'm going to rebuild something, then why not start at the bottom?" Benway asked. "These kids are going to get introduced to varsity baseball and get thrown right into the fire. We are going to have a young team, but they want to play and that's the first step."

Benway is encouraged by the performances of some of his seniors, like pitcher Victor Bristol, who is coming off a highly successful basketball season that saw the Hillers reach the state sectional finals.

"He's a bulldog and he's going to battle you for seven innings," Benway said of Bristol's pitching prowess. "He may not be the most talented pitcher around, but you can't question his heart. He's going to come after you."

Middle infielder Jose Gonzalo has also been a stabilizing force in the pre-season scrimmages and practices. "He's a solid fielder and he's going to be a good No. 2 hitter in our lineup," Benway said of Gonzalo. "He's going to make things happen."

Senior catcher Robert Chacon is a good defensive backstop who will control the team's pitchers, like junior Amin Rojas, who will also play first base.

Sophomore Yens Mena has been a pleasant surprise and more than likely will be the team's shortstop. "By the time it's said and done, he's going to be as good as they come," Benway said.

So he's talking with the promise and the vitality of a head coach, eager to get the season started, anxious to get his second chance at coaching underway.

"I feel reborn," Benway said. "I'm getting another chance and there aren't many people who get second chances. I would love to eventually have this team take on my personality. When that happens, then I think this team can have a good season."

Practicing in frigid temperatures at Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus, the Hillers seem to already have the determination that personifies their young coach, who deserved this second chance and will do everything to make sure that this time, it sticks.

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