All about giving back

Troy Bennage of Academic Magnet High School, All-Lowcountry soccer Coach of the Year.

Troy Bennage is one of the elder statesmen of the South Carolina coaching fraternity, with 35 years of experience under his belt. His days as a coach and teacher are winding down and he prefers to not reflect and choose which of his 894 career victories stands out.

"It's just the kids who are important," said Bennage, who spent the first 20 years of his career at Stall and the last 15 at Academic Magnet. "It's not really the sport or the wins that stand out. It was just being able to give back to sports. People helped me get ahead in life and sports, and I just wanted to do the same."

Bennage's coaching career was almost short-circuited before it started. He attended Middletown Township High School in New Jersey and ended up at Erksine College in Due West. He played baseball there, graduated and landed a job at Stall in time for the 1975-76 academic year. Two weeks before school started, Bennage was offered a job in his native New Jersey.

"I was engaged and was fixing to get married in February," Bennage said. "I was ready to go (to New Jersey), but my fiancee said, 'I'm not moving there.' "

Bennage stayed and got married. He and his wife, Frances, have been married for 34 years.

At Stall, Bennage coached wrestling, junior varsity football, boys and girls soccer, and was an assistant baseball coach to Jerry Stoots. At Academic Magnet, he has coached wrestling, football and boys and girls soccer.

He coached wrestling for 34 years and owns a 368-203-12 record. His soccer record is 518-312-16. He also coached football for five years.

Bennage has been a region coach of the year 19 times and has coached 15 region championship teams.

He was an assistant when Stall won the state baseball championship in 1985, and he has led the Academic Magnet soccer team to three state championship appearances.

But Bennage is more than numbers. He's a good story.

He was planning to play college baseball at Tampa and thought coach Woody Woodward, who played for the Cincinnati Reds, was going to offer him a scholarship. That scholarship went instead to Whitey Ford's son. Erskine coach Harry Stille was recruiting another player from Middletown Township High when Bennage caught his attention.

"He happened to notice me and one day he came up and said, 'Every time I've seen you play, you've gotten better.' He got me hook, line and sinker with that."

He played in four NAIA national tournaments at Erskine, but he knew his days after college were destined to be on the sideline coaching.

"Coaching is something I wanted to do since the seventh grade," said the 57-year-old Bennage. "It's my time. It's been fun. I've been blessed. But it's time."