Indiana Daily Student

Bennett couldn't escape the lure of coaching

Once told friends that 'she would never be a coach'

Coach Kathi Bennett was on a different career path in the mid-1980s.\nBelieve it or not, Bennett had no plans of being a coach. In fact, she did not want to roam the sidelines piling up the headaches and heartaches that came with the job.\nThrough her dad, she'd already had enough of that.\n"I will never forget the struggles when I was in college and my dad was taking over the Green Bay program," said Bennett of her father, Dick, coaching at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. "It was around Christmas time, and they were struggling. I was up in the stands, and I almost got into a fight with someone ... they were screaming 'Bennett you're a bum,' and 'What did we bring you here for?'\n"I remember going home after the game, and he was sitting at the table; pure red, with his veins sticking out, and I remember telling my mom I thought he was going to die. It was a scary time for our family."\nBut after a few years filled with soul-searching and growing debt, Bennett took a small job at a small school -- and in the process found her calling.\nUntil then, Bennett had no plans of falling in her father's footsteps, and wasn't afraid to make it known. Her college teammate at UWGB, Sue Bodilly, remembers Bennett telling her often that she would never pick up a whistle.\n"She kept telling us that she would never be a coach," Bodilly said. "With her dad being so occupied with his profession, I think it was difficult for her to think about going down the same path."\nBeing a player made that decision easy for Bennett. At UWGB, she starred in the backcourt, not on the sidelines, and never really had to seriously consider the weight of her words. A career-ending knee injury near the end of her junior season made her hypothetical statement all too practical.\nStill, Bennett stood firm that she would not coach basketball. \n"I was kind of bitter because I had worked really hard to become a good player," Bennett said. "I never accomplished what I wanted to accomplish in my playing career, and so I certainly had a lot of bitterness about that and fought it for a long time."\nThe next fall, Bennett was coaching as a senior at UWGB, but she wasn't coaching basketball. The daughter of a basketball coach, and a former all-conference basketball player, Bennett was coaching UWGB's men's cross country team.\n "She coached that team very well," said Carol Hammerle, her basketball coach at UWGB. "I mean, she was respected not only by her runners, but by coaches throughout the league as well.\n"To do what she did, to coach her peers like that, just shows what a gift she has to teach."\nBennett took over the men's cross country program at the insistence of Hammerle, who knew that she needed to keep active following the knee injury. The injury had taken an emotional toll on Bennett, who had known nothing else than playing basketball all her life.\nAll the hours of practice and preparation that Bennett had spent on basketball were now vacant and Hammerle knew it was eating at her former guard.\n"Coach Hammerle knew me so well," Bennett said. "She knew I needed to keep busy. I could not go to games, I could not go to practice -- I couldn't handle playing basketball."\nBut Bennett handled her new job well, taking a team that perennially finished last in the conference and jumping them to seventh with a strong showing at the conference meet. It was one of the best experiences in her life, she said.\n"You would have thought we had won the meet, and I think some people were pretty mad about that," said Bennett. "The guys picked me up and were carrying me around on their shoulders."\nTwo years passed until Bennett would coach again. Money drove her to an assistant position at Carroll College, a liberal arts school with 1,800 students in Waukesha, Wis.\nBennett built up debt in those interim years, taking out numerous college loans to pay for graduate school. The Carroll job was more out of necessity to help pay back the loans than it was for wanting to coach, she said.\nBut it didn't take long for Bennett to fall in love with the profession she tried so hard to stay away from.\nHaving the opportunity to lead her first practice, Bennett quickly knew that her passion for basketball hadn't died and that coaching provided much of the same rush she had received from playing.\n"(Carroll's former coach) never had weekend practices, and I asked if I could hold one on a Saturday," Bennett said. "I offered and said if anyone wants to show up, I'll be there.\n"And they all showed up. And I got to run the practice. And immediately, I knew this was what I had to do."\nLooking ahead: A dance with perfection

  • Bennett knew the 1995-96 Wisconsin-Oshkosh women's basketball team was good -- they'd fallen one game short the year before of the NCAA Division III National Championship. But Bennett could not have fathomed just how good they ended up.\n
  • For more, read Thursday's story in the IDS.

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