(Aug. 21, 2020) After dedicating the past five years as a volunteer coach for youth soccer programs in Ocean Pines, Eric Benson was honored last week with the annual Sam Wilkerson Award.
Recreation and Parks Director Debbie Donahue announced the accolade and presented to Benson a commemorative plaque during the OPA Board meeting last Wednesday at the Ocean Pines Golf Clubhouse.
Established in 2003, the award pays respects to the memory of Sam Wilkerson, 8, who died during a water accident in Ocean City.
Sam Wilkerson had participated in youth soccer under the watchful eye of his father, Bob, a volunteer coach in the Ocean Pines Recreation Department.
Donahue said one volunteer is selected for the annual award based on the time and effort spent helping children develop on-field skills.
A native of England, Benson was indoctrinated as a Manchester United Football Club devotee from an early age.
“He is a lifelong Manchester United fan and would regularly go to watch the games as a youngster,” she said.
The childhood fascination with soccer, or football outside of the U.S., grew into a lifelong passion that Benson eventually brought full circle after becoming a youth coach.
Donahue said in addition to being licensed as an instructor by the United States Soccer Federation, Benson previously was honored as national “coach of the month” by the U.S. Youth Soccer program.
“Prior to retiring … he coached several competitive travel youth teams in Virginia for over 20 years,” Donahue said. “Two of which were state champions and regional finalists.”
Benson and his wife, Nina, married 36 years ago and raised two sons, who continue residing in Virginia.
Besides an affinity for competitive sports, Benson is a musician who played keyboards for opening acts suppporting English rock luminaries such as The Who and the Kinks.
While accepting the honor last week, Benson thanked Donahue, Recreational Supervisor Katie Goetzinger and soccer coach Joe Monteverde, who is a prior Wilkerson Award winner.
“Thank you for this award,” he said. “It’s quite an honor to receive it.”
Benson said that enthusiasm, honesty and humor are core elements of his coaching philosophy.
“Players pick up on the passion that I give,” he said. “It’s the things that give me the most enjoyment, when a player responds and just enjoys the game.”
Benson also paid credit to his spouse for accommodating his time commitment to instruct youth soccer players.
“Our theory is, I could be doing worse things,” he said.
Benson said the time and energy devoted to coaching has been rewarding.
“It’s fun to see them improve [and] to enjoy the game,” he said. “That’s been my one aim in life.”