The Recorder: Senator honors local coaches and champion wrestler Brandon Lapi

May 22, 2014

State Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, D-Duanesburg, honored and presented Senate resolutions to three local wrestling coaches who have dedicated a combined 105 years to the sport, and who have coached state, national and olympic champions.

She also presented a resolution to Amsterdam High School's Brandon Lapi, who won more than 260 matches and five Section II titles in his high school career.

"And, in the final match of his high school career," Tkaczyk said, "Brandon won the Division I, 138-pound title match to become state wrestling champ." She noted that Brandon was also selected the Division I Most Outstanding Wrestler.

"Brandon is a true champion and a winner who will no doubt continue to have great success in his life," she said.

Tkaczyk also introduced a resolution to honor Lapi's coach at AHS, Ken Benton, who announced he would retire at the end of this season.

"Coach Benton began coaching Amsterdam High School in 1993, and saw his team win 334 matches and nine consecutive Big 10 Titles," she said.

Coach Todd Jones, who has served as wrestling coach and athletic director at Canajoharie High School for 37 years, was also honored by Tkaczyk.

Under coach Jones' leadership, the Canajoharie High School wrestling team had dozens of Section II finalists, more than 300 varsity wins, and three trips to the state tournament.

Tkaczyk also said, "in addition to his and his teams' many athletic achievements, this year, coach Jones's wrestling team was honored by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association as scholar-athlete team award winners, with a 92 grade average."

Tkaczyk also presented a resolution to the coach of her local high school, Duanesburg's Joe Bena, who retired this year after 48 years as a coach with Newburgh Free Academy, Niskayuna and Duanesburg.

Coach Bena compiled 673 victories -- the most of any coach in the state, and he has mentored olympians, college all-Americans and state champions.

Tkaczyk noted that one of coach Bena's wrestlers -- Nick Gwiazdowski -- was a two-time state titlist who graduated from Duanesburg High School in 2011. This year, wrestling for North Carolina State, Nick became Section II's first NCAA champion with an upset victory over the two-time defending champion.

Another one of his wrestlers, Amy Whitbeck, made state history when she became the first female wrestler to win a sectional championship and wrestle in the state high school championships. Whitbeck was also a member of the 2006 United States female junior olympic wrestling team and was rated fifth in the world during the Beijing Junior Olympics in 2006.

"The coaches we are honoring today have had long and distinguished careers, and they focused not only on teaching their wrestlers how to be great athletes, but how to be great individuals and citizens as well," Tkaczyk said. "They are wonderful examples to the many young people they have mentored over the years."