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Where are they now'

KERM BENNETT

Crater High School, 1959

The wins and losses are but a distant memory for Kerm Bennett, but the valuable lessons learned while playing athletics at Crater High in the late 1950s will never be forgotten.

Bennett earned six varsity letters in football, basketball and track and field while with the Comets, earning first-team all-conference and honorable mention all-state honors in football during his senior year in 1959.

He later went on to Southern Oregon College, where he earned four letters in football and two in track. Still, nothing compares to what it was like being a teenager in Central Point during the 1950s.

What I remember of it, it was just really good times, Bennett, 63, says of his high school days. We didn't have the things to worry about that I think kids now have to worry about. I just remember the whole experience of high school athletics as being very special to me. I guess that's why I'm such an advocate for kids being involved in athletics today. I just wish every kid could have the same experience I had.

The experience proved so powerful that Bennett, a Crater High hall-of-famer, has spent the better part of his life in that very pursuit.

— A 40-year career spent as a teacher, coach, dean of students, athletic director and superintendent officially came to a close this past July with Bennett's second ' and he says final ' retirement.

I'm enjoying (being retired) tremendously, Bennett said by phone from his 34-foot boat on the Columbia River. I'm trying to figure out what I want to do when I grow up.

He credits his football coach at Crater, Leonard Warren, with helping lay the foundation to his life's work. In the summer between his junior and senior years at Crater, Bennett was asked by Warren to help run a week-long summer football camp at the junior high.

I didn't have a clue what I was doing, but I felt really honored to be doing it, recalls Bennett, who will celebrate his 18th wedding anniversary to wife Sara in December. That's kinda what got me interested in coaching. I think Leonard played a major role in what I chose to do.

After high school, Bennett was an all-conference halfback and defensive back at Southern Oregon. He led the team in rushing and scoring in 1962, and his 12 touchdowns stood as the single-season school record until eclipsed in 1997 by Griff Yates. Bennett's teams twice won Oregon Collegiate Conference championships under the guidance of Al Akins.

It was small-college football, recalls Bennett, but as far as we were concerned, we felt like we were the University of Oregon or something. It was big times for us.

Upon graduation, Bennett taught elementary and junior high classes for three years in California before returning to the Rogue Valley for a junior high teaching job in Eagle Point.

Warren, who at the time was the principal at Eagle Point High, named Bennett head coach of the football team in 1968, taking his former player full circle.

He never stuck his nose in, which I always respected, Bennett says. I was a typical rookie coach who made mistake after mistake. Leonard helped me with that and was just always supportive. He never told you what to do, he was just always there for you.

From there, Bennett played career ping-pong with a move to Roseburg, then back to Eagle Point, back to Roseburg, to Medford, back to Eagle Point, to Grants Pass and, finally, St. Helen's.

I just never could keep a job, laughs Bennett, who also had an ill-fated attempt to start a real estate business in 1981.

No one is more surprised than Bennett that, in all his travels, he never made it back to Central Point.

I always wanted to coach there, but the opportunity never presented itself, he says. I don't look back with regrets, though. It was probably the way things were meant to be.

And yet another lesson to be learned.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail