One of the winningest coaches in northeast Indiana boys basketball history is on the move.
After four years at the helm of Bluffton following a long tenure at Columbia City, Chris Benedict has been hired as the next head coach of the Whitko Wildcats.
“It just kind of fell into place,” said Benedict about the new gig. “I’ve known (Whitko Community Schools superintendent Dr. Brandon Penrod) for a number of years and this was a great opportunity for the family.”
Benedict’s wife Sandy was recently hired for a position in the high school’s new Whitko Career Academy, which is located in the former Larwill Middle School and opens its doors to students in the fall. When Penrod reached out to Benedict to gauge his interest in coaching as well as serving as the new academy’s director of alternative programs, it was difficult to turn down.
“I wasn’t really looking to leave (Bluffton),” said Benedict, who finished 39-57 in his four years coaching the Tigers, including a sectional title in 2019.
Benedict takes over at Whitko for the departed Eli Henson, who was named head boys basketball coach at Manchester High School in June. Henson went 46-48 in four years with the Wildcats, including 10-13 last season.
Benedict, who owns a career record of 411-239 and ranks in the top 25 in wins among active coaches in the state, has plenty to work with on the Wildcats’ varsity roster. While Clayton Ebbinghouse (11.3 points per game) has graduated, Whitko is set to return the remainder of last year’s production – including leading scorers Brett Sickafoose (23.7 ppg, 7.1 rebounds per game) and Drake Lewis (13.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.7 assists per game).
“We didn’t play them in the regular season last year, but since they were in our sectional I watched them closely,” said Benedict about Whitko. “They have had good guard play the last couple of years and they have a group of seniors who are hungry. Lots of experience back, which means togetherness and toughness.
“Offensively, anytime you bring back two double-digit scorers it is a good thing, even better when one of them averaged over 20 (points per game).”
Benedict is no stranger to postseason success over his 28 seasons as a head basketball coach in Indiana, having won eight sectionals, three regionals and a semistate championship with Columbia City in 2004.
The Whitko faithful will be hoping that Benedict can continue his success with the Wildcats, a program that has just a pair of sectional titles since the adoption of class basketball in 1998.
Benedict is open to any type of scheme that his players can excel in, as long as they are not getting beat consistently on the defensive end.
“We will give our guys the freedom to do some things, but we want to push it up the floor and get a good look as soon as we can,” Benedict said. “Those guys have played at a quicker pace (under Henson) and I am not opposed to that at all.”
Bluffton’s 15-win campaign last season was the most victories for the program in a single year since Kevin Leising’s final campaign in 2015-16.
“Being able to be there with (former Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District superintendent Wayne Barker) was a great time and it was a great situation where we were turning the program around to be competitive year in and year out,” Benedict said. “I was really able to expand on my administrative career and now I am able to go to a place where I get to take advantage of that and still coach basketball.”