Oxford Hills AD Jeff Benson looks out at the rain coming down while on the phone lining up umpires at Gouin Complex last week after cancelling a pair of games

PARIS — Jeff Benson is going back to Edward Little High School because he has never forgotten what it gave to him in his time of greatest need — and it’s time for him to give back.

In 2002, Benson and his wife, Jody, lost their 12-year-old son, Jamie, to a congenital heart condition.

The Auburn community rallied around the Benson family, which also includes eldest son Josh, a 2002 Travis Roy Award-winning hockey player at Edward Little. Even when Jeff stepped down in the spring of 2003 as the school’s athletic director and took the same job at Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference rival Oxford Hills, the support continued with awards, scholarships and fields and buildings named in Jamie’s honor. 

This summer, Benson will return as athletic director at Edward Little, in part to serve those who helped him and his family through their grief.

“When Jamie passed away, that community supported us totally, gave us whatever we needed, helped us heal. So it’s time for me to give back to the community that helped me out,” he said.

Benson, who was confirmed by the Auburn School Committee last Wednesday, will replace Dan Deshaies, who replaced him at Edward Little in 2003 and is retiring.

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June 30 will be Benson’s last official day with Oxford Hills. July 1 will be his first official day at Edward Little.

Benson, who lives a short drive from Edward Little, said a couple of other factors led him to consider a return to the Auburn school.

“It was time for a change, one,” Benson said. “Second, when I saw that Dan was planning to retire, I thought I can work two minutes from my house and be in a community that I’ve been in since 1993.”

“I know a majority of their coaches there already,” he added. “It’s going to have different feel, obviously, but it’s not one that I am going into where I’m not familiar with anything. That’s a good thing.”

Since graduating from the University of Maine at Farmington in 1979, Benson, 60, has spent 38 years in education. For the last 27 years, he has been an athletic director, with stops at Lisbon and Gray-New Gloucester before his first stint at Edward Little.

In Benson’s 14 years, the Vikings have won three state championships —  baseball in 2005 and 2010 and and girls’ skiing in 2013. But he is most proud of the 13 MPA sportsmanship awards and two KVAC sportsmanship awards presented to Oxford Hills’ teams, “so I know we’re doing the right things,”  he said.

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Oxford Hills baseball coach Shane Slicer called Benson a mentor whose baseball background (he’s coached high school and college baseball and is currently an assistant at Bates College) has been invaluable.

“Since he’s been a college coach and continues to be a college coach, just throwing x’s and o’s at him and how to run a program, he’s been fantastic,” Slicer said. “In terms of an AD, he’s been very, very good. He dots his i’s. We know there’s going to be a bus there when there’s supposed to be. We know the facilities are going to be looked at and taken care of. He’s very organized.”

“He’s a good friend. I think that’s the biggest thing for me,” Slicer added. “I wish him the best of luck, but at the same time, I’m a little sad. Any time you get change, it’s tough. It’s been pretty smooth for 14 years for me.”

Benson, who has also served as a baseball umpire for 27 years and basketball official for 33 years, said he appreciated the support he’s received from principal Ted Moccia and assistant principals Paul Bickford and John Springer, his faculty managers and particularly, his administrative assistant, Pam Colby.

“My boss,” he called Colby.

“He calls me ‘The Boss,’ but the reality is I couldn’t have worked for a more conscientious boss than Jeff Benson,” Colby said.

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Benson said the transition back to Edward Little couldn’t be any smoother than the one he went through when he started at Oxford Hills.

“No. 1, the facilities here are outstanding,” he said. “Second, we had a very veteran coaching staff, so there wasn’t a whole lot that I had to do when I came in here. It was what I consider a very smooth transition, just a matter of a couple of years of getting what you wanted for expectations with your teams and your coaches and getting them to work into that system. And I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

Oxford Hills’ Gouin Athletic Complex was in its infancy when Benson arrived. Currently, Auburn is in the early design stages of building a new high school. Benson said he is looking forward to helping plan athletic facilities associated with the project.

“I’m excited about that opportunity,” he said.

Oxford Hills AD Jeff Benson drives around Gouin Complex in Paris prior to recent games.Oxford Hills AD Jeff Benson drives around Gouin Complex in Paris prior to recent games.

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