(Topsfield MA) Not every choice in life is easy.
Gordon College graduate (1999) Ben Hodges found that out when deciding whether he should commit to his third season as the varsity boys’ basketball coach at Masconomet Regional High School this winter.
“Deciding not to coach was a long process and involved a lot of prayer and talking with my wife,” explained the 31-year-old computer science teacher to me at Masco this past Friday.
When Ben took over as head basketball coach at Masco two years ago it was a dream come true for him. He had been at Masco for eight years and already was coaching golf and junior varsity basketball.
At that point, he knew that he had the energy and time needed to handle the 65-70 hour weekday schedule that a teacher/coach puts in. The formula in place was to take on those hours during the week and then recover on the weekends. Living that lifestyle from mid-August through February seemed do-able at the outset.
Everything for Ben changed significantly, however, when his wife Laurie became pregnant and their first child (Bryce) was born a year ago.
Laurie is the former Laurie Condon (Gordon – Class of 1997). She currently teaches math at Andover Middle School.
“We met on a bus trip to a basketball tournament at Messiah College that Gordon was involved in,” recalled Ben. “She was a junior and I was a freshman. She played both basketball and soccer at Gordon for four years. She’s probably the more accomplished athlete in our family.”
Bryce’s arrival came on the second day of Masco basketball tryouts last year. Ben’s struggles with his commitment to coaching and fatherhood became reality.
“I loved coaching and I took the preparation part seriously,” he said. “I was looking for that edge the extra preparation might give me. The players were putting in extra effort and I wanted to match it.”
On the other hand, there was the little guy being dropped off at daycare each weekday morning. “I’d drop him off at daycare in the morning,” said Ben. “He’d be half asleep. Laurie would pick him up after her school day was over. I’d get home around seven and he’d be in bed. Sometimes I’d wake him up just to see him for a few minutes and maybe get a smile out of him.”
“There were times when Bryce looked at me and didn’t even respond,” added Ben. “I also recall being in the room with Bryce when Laurie’s father arrived. I saw Bryce’s eyes light up and watched him crawl eagerly to his grandfather.”
Ben learned quickly that the only quality time he would have with his son would be on weekends, a time when he was worn out from his teaching/coach schedule.
Thus, the “long” process began which ended up in his resignation from the head basketball job at Masco in September of this year.
“My wife was aware of the advantages of my being home in the wintertime but she also realized that I really enjoyed coaching. She said that she would support me whichever direction I chose. I really appreciated that.”
Ben made his resignation official in September. That resignation, minus the details I’ve provided above, aroused quite a bit of curiosity. “Everybody wanted a scoop on the story,” he recalled. “Some thought it was a problem with a parent or some other issue but it was none of that. The parents had been very supportive.” He had also built up a 27-15 record over his two years there and had a strong team coming back.
Once the story behind the resignation got out in The Salem Evening News Ben received a lot of feedback. “The response was encouraging once people understood the details.”
“There is a huge spiritual element to what has happened,” said Ben. “We are close to a lot of Christian friends and we do retreats and things like that together. Attending church, however, wasn’t happening because of our schedules. With Bryce now in the mix we plan to find a good church with youth programs that he can be part of as he gets older.”
I asked Ben if he was suffering any regrets with the basketball season starting soon. “The longer it gets from the decision (to resign) and the closer it gets to the basketball season the more justified the decision seems,” was his response. “God has given me a lot of peace about the decision.”
A note to current Gordon men’s basketball coach Mike Schauer: Ben still has another year of eligibility left and he looked to me to be in terrific shape. “I can assure you that my wife wouldn’t support any attempt I would make at using that eligibility, “joked Ben.
Ben played for Walt Bowman his freshman year (1995-96), and as a senior and graduate student for Troy Justice (1998-00). He was twice chosen co-captain, once with Andrew Ellrod and his last year with Ryan Whitehouse.
I saw him play a couple of times at Gordon. He had the high-energy, reckless-abandon style of Allen “You talking about practice” Iverson on the court. He was always going at full speed and there were few shots out of his range.