Vale, Benno

Tragedy impacts on all of us in different ways. We are reminded of our own mortality. We have feelings of empathy to the closest family and friends. We have our own feelings of grief. This week has had me experiencing solid grief for the loss of a young friend who had much more adventure ahead of him. This post is partly what I supplied to our local football write-up, and a little bit more.

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Ben wasn’t a club champion at the Denmark-Walpole Football Club. He sprayed his kicks a bit and there were times, if his confidence dropped, he would look lost out there. There were times, when it did all click – and the kid who resembled the Chesty Bonds guy would lock down his opponent, lay some big tackles and hit his targets.

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Ben gave full effort and attention to his football – and his coaches; whether it was Colts, Reserves or League football. You knew he was going to have a crack. He trained hard, and rarely missed a session in his Gold Coast jumper. While I was playing and training, Ben and I would chat, jogging around the oval. He was a good kid that was interested in the world. He loved his footy and his footy club – and it loved him back.

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Ben put his hand up to do many things around the club. He joined our football club committee as one of our youngest members – and had to learn about internal club politics pretty quickly. He nit-picked my minutes relentlessly when I filled in for the club treasurer for a few months – correcting the fine details I’m not renowned for. He was always interested in trying things out and getting things moving. Some didn’t work (the fishing nets rotting behind the change-rooms), some did (chasing a grant to install new flooring for our change rooms). I still thank him each time I don’t ice skate around in the rooms in my football boots.

Ben was the assistant coach for the Colts (under 18’s) in his first year out of the grade – and took his role seriously. His old coach is devastated. Being a Colts coach now, I can empathise with how he must be feeling; you build bonds with your players, and as my amazing Grandfather always used to say, “age has nothing to do with friendship”.

Ben put himself forward to be part of a state-wide reference group for the Act-Belong-Commit Connectors program, after I suggested it. I swear he thought I was mad at first, but he put himself forward. He arm-wrestled our League ruckman shirtless to raise extra money at the Calcutta auction – an archaic football tradition where players are auctioned off and forced to perform acts of strength and humour. He had the guns to do it.

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copyright Carl Heslop and southsidegrind.com.au

Beyond our football club, he was a part of the Denmark Surf-life Saving Club, patrolling Ocean Beach each summer and helping anywhere he could. I can’t remember many days over his last summer in town that I didn’t chat to him on the beach. He was always gracious about my (lack of) surfing ability and restrained all guffaws until I was well out of the way.

Ben’s parents didn’t miss many of his games – their spot on the grass almost has an indent – and as we all know, parents that stick around become low-hanging fruit when it comes to club jobs. They volunteered as team manager, running water, canteen duty. They were proud of their son – and by God they should have been – he was a beauty. They helped where they could because they loved the club that loved their son.

Ben was in Perth for Uni, playing footy and enjoying his time as a young man in the city. He was studying to be a teacher. Twists of fate; different decisions; a long line of “what-ifs” can come to mind at times like these and they aren’t always helpful. Whatever the future may have held, I’m pretty certain Ben would have ended up back in our town at some point and around our club in some form – and the town and club are all poorer now that won’t happen.

Its been a tough week, that won’t necessarily get easier. I called Ben a friend and enjoyed his company – its been a challenge some days this week just to get anything done. The mind wanders. It’s brought up a lot of emotions. There have been tears – tears for Ben; for his parents; for his friends; for my children, as I think of more “what-ifs”; for our community. The whole town is mourning and we are all facing challenges ahead. Getting through the next game of football will be a challenge. The funeral will be a challenge. Father’s day will be a challenge. The first day of summer. Milestones that will come and go. The space left behind by this young man will not be quickly filled. Nor should it.

Grief is like a tide

Ben wasn’t a club champion – Benno was a champion young bloke; one who I know we are all going to miss.

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