SOUTH PARIS – Jeff Benson isn’t crazy about awards, headlines or photo opportunities, so he’s probably in the right profession.

Most of the time, anyway.

The athletic administrator at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and middle school has been forced to shrug off the handshakes and congratulatory phone calls for a few weeks. Benson recently received the Robert Lahey Award as athletic director of the year from the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.

“I’m humbled. I can tell you that,” said Benson, an Auburn resident who has been a teacher, coach and administrator in local schools for nearly 30 years.

While every job in public education is relatively thankless, athletic administration probably heads the list.

Athletic directors often work longer hours for lower pay than other administrators. Every action of a coach, student or spectator boomerangs back to them. If an AD’s name is spoken at all, it is typically muttered in vain on those rare occasions when something goes wrong.

“When it comes from your peers, it has a little more meaning, because they recognize exactly what you do,” Benson said. “They know the time commitment and what goes on behind the scenes.

“It’s a school award,” he added. “Without the kids, the coaches and the staff, there wouldn’t be an award.”

Benson graduated from Hall-Dale High School and the University of Maine at Farmington.

After a brief stint at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel, Benson spent 19 years at Lisbon High School, the last nine as both co-curricular coordinator and a full-time history teacher. He was AD at Gray-New Gloucester High School for one year and Edward Little High School for three prior to taking the same job at Oxford Hills in 2003-04.

“If you did a coaching tree of all the coaches and administrators who played or worked under him, it would be huge,” said Jeff Ramich, who succeeded Benson as overseer of Lisbon’s athletic program. “He has been an amazing influence on me, not only professionally, but personally.”

Ramich played baseball and basketball for Benson and coached football and basketball under his watch before becoming Lisbon’s AD.

Before expanding his career path, Benson coached Lisbon’s baseball program to historic heights. Lisbon launched a streak of 12 consecutive Mountain Valley Conference championships in 1983, Ramich’s junior year.

“He was a great role model for me. He still is. When I have a question or a problem, the first person I call is Coach Benson,” Ramich said. “To this day, I never call him Jeff. It’s ‘Coach.’ If I have an issue I need to run by him, I’ll leave him a message and say, ‘Hey, Coach,’ and he knows who it is and calls me back.”

Those relationships were modeled by the athletic directors who mentored Benson in his early years.

Benson credits Stan Doughty of Lisbon, Peter Brown of Telstar and Jay, John White of Edward Little and Gerry Durgin of Gorham for teaching him the finer points.

Aside from the out-of-town branches in that coaching tree, Benson supervises approximately 100 coaches in 50 athletic programs throughout SAD 17. He manages the sprawling Don Gouin Athletic Complex, perennially one of the greenest and most immaculate layouts in the region.

“Our facilities are in the top five in the state as far as I’m concerned,” Benson said.

For that, Benson deflects the credit to groundskeepers Fred Knightly, Tim Bryant and Steve Seamon. He ascribes the day-to-day success of the Oxford Hills athletic program to faculty managers Scott Graffam, Cindy Goddard and Rick Benoit and administrative assistant Pam Colby.

Benson’s wife, Jody, has been actively involved in his career while making sure the couple’s two sons, Josh and Jamie, were on time for their own athletic endeavors.

“His family is outstanding,” Ramich said. “I also still call his wife Mrs. Benson, although it probably should be St. Benson. Any wife or husband or significant other of an AD is a saint.”

In addition to the all-consuming job, Benson is active with Auburn Suburban Little League and the scholarship foundation named after his younger son. Jamie Benson died of complications from heart surgery in 2002.

Benson also remains a respected high school and college basketball official and baseball umpire.

“It’s the stress relief for me, believe it or not,” he said. “It’s a way for me to get out and do something else and still be involved in working with kids.”

And another environment in which he’d love to go unnoticed.

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