In 267 wins and nearly 20 seasons as a head coach, there has only been one place for Columbia City boys’ basketball coach Chris Benedict to call home.
“I was very comfortable for 11 years here,” Benedict said. “I had an opportunity to go do something different and took advantage of it but at the end of the day my family and I looked at our time here and said that it was home.”
Around Columbia City and Northeast Indiana, Benedict might be best known for one season and an Eagles team that traveled all the way to a state finals appearance in 2004. Readers of The Post & Mail recognize it by naming Benedict as one of the top coaches of the decade.
“It was a neat time and a great group of kids to be a part of,” Benedict said. “It was unbelievable for our community to go through that.”
The town that surrounded the Eagles on their historic run might remember it every day, but does the coach?
“Oh, yeah,” answered Benedict when asked if he thought back to that season much. “It’s one of those things where if you have something that special, you want to try and duplicate it as much as you can.
“Players are different and need to be their own team but at the same time the characteristics of what your team is about can be similar.”
It’s not just X’s and O’s with Benedict, however. With three sectional championships to his name, the Eagles’ longtime head coach turns to the players for credit in making a name for the program.
“It’s just a fun place to be a part of,” Benedict commented. “The thing about our program is we’ve got guys that were high profile then we got guys that were role players but just as important to the team success and they all come back. You remember all of them just as much as the next player. All those guys are important to what we do here.”
When Benedict decided to leave Columbia City for two seasons to coach at Valparaiso, his seniors from 2004 showed their support in a trip to one of his games.
“The neat thing was when I was at Valpo those six guys just came up and watched a game,” Benedict said. “I’m going into a new environment where people don’t know me as well and it was nice to see those six guys show up.
“When the opportunity arose to come back I took it. When you have something that special you miss it.”
The success of the Columbia City program culminated into a seat on the bench during the 2006 Indiana-Kentucky High School All-Stars game for Benedict.
Selected as head coach of the Indiana All-Stars, Benedict was put in charge of leading the team that was headlined by current NBA stars Greg Oden, Ty Conley and Luke Harangody.
“It’s enjoyable to look back on now,” Benedict said. “You watch games on TV and see guys you coached at one time is neat.
“I wouldn’t have had the opportunity without our guys. If we’re not winning games and we’re not doing what we’re doing then I don’t get that opportunity. So, it’s a direct reflection of the players we’ve had in our program.”
Other nominees were longtime CCHS cross country and girls’ track coach Bob Fahl and Columbia City softball coach Steve Cox.
Fahl was described by voters as someone who “cares about the students on and off the field,” and “lifting kids up to do their best year after year,” and also as “going the extra mile to work with each student.”
Cox, shared other coaches concern for his players not only on the field but off as well. Cox was described as being a “very compassionate and caring coach,” and noted for “emphasizing education before softball.”