An incoming student at Trinity High School in Camp Hill, Quentin Milliken sat on the floor in the home of his longtime wrestling coach, Chris Bentley, and listened as his mentor delivered a heartfelt plea.
It was July 11, and the coach had been traveling home from a wrestling camp when Quentin’s parents called him to give their son a pep talk.
As Coach Bentley unpacked his wrestling gear and suitcase, he turned to Quentin.
“Find a passion in life,” he directed. “My passion is to help other people. What’s yours, Q?”
Coach Bentley had been handing down wrestling techniques and life lessons to Quentin for eight years, first meeting with the then ten-year-old student joined Renegade Force Wrestling Club, a traveling youth organization that Coach Bentley ran.
“He held me accountable for my actions on and off the mat, and if I messed up, he would tell me and make me fix the problem,” Quentin said.
So when Coach Bentley told Quentin on that July day to find his passion, Quentin reset his focus.
The next day, Quentin joined Coach Bentley and his sons Devon, a 2013 Trinity graduate, and Caleb, a rising senior at Trinity, at practice.
They had gathered in the new wrestling gym, holding high hopes for the upcoming season. It was a day of optimism.
But a game-changing take-down came out of nowhere.
Chris Bentley died at work the following morning, July 13, of an apparent heart attack. He was 46.
The wrestling community is a tight-knit one of battle-tested brothers who learn plenty of life lessons within the padded confines of a wrestling room. News of the coach’s death spread rapidly, even to the collegiate level throughout the country.
“When I heard the news of passing, not only did Coach Bentley die, I feel like a part of my childhood did as well,” said Patrick Duggan, who, along with younger brothers Francis and Michael, wrestled for the Renegade club.
“He not only developed some of the best wrestlers, but shaped us into good men [and] was hard on us, but for the right reasons,” said Patrick, a member of the Cathedral Parish of St. Patrick in Harrisburg.
Recently enrolled at Iowa to wrestle for the famed Hawkeye program, he recalled the first time he entered the wrestling room at Renegade, where he initially met Coach Bentley.
A sign above the door there read, “Enter boys, leave as men.”
“He cared for every single wrestler he coached and treated them like they were his own,” Patrick reflected.
“Coach Bentley exemplified every great value there was,” he said. “He was bold, passionate, he challenged us, he was honest, respectful, determined, caring, loyal, faithful and religious, and most of all, taught us what it is to be a great leader. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach.”
Trinity High School hired Chris Bentley as its inaugural wrestling coach when the program debuted in the 2010-2011 season. That year, he coached the team’s first individual district champion, Adam Geiger. The following season, he coached Ryan Diehl to his first of back-to-back individual state titles. A third champion, Andrew Wert, won districts in 2015.
He also coached his sons Devon and Caleb on the Shamrock team.
Those who wrestled for him became part of the Bentley family, whether they wrestled at Renegade or at Trinity.
“He brought not just different wrestlers together, but their families as well,” noted Patrick, who refers to the Bentleys as his second family.
“They were people I could always rely on,” Patrick said of Chris Bentley, his wife Lara and their sons. “Coach touched the lives of us, but the whole Bentley family together was very compelling.”
When wrestlers from Renegade matriculated to various high school teams, Coach Bentley continued to support them.
“Even though he was a coach at Trinity, he followed and supported by career,” said Patrick, a 2015 graduate of Cumberland Valley High School who was a four-time state place winner and a three-time district champion.
The same applied to Quentin, who attended Cumberland Valley before transferring to Trinity for the upcoming school year.
Coach cared about every single one of his wrestlers, no matter what school you attended,” Quentin said. “He was always watching and checking results, and he knew who you beat, who beat you, where you wrestled, the whole nine yards.
“The most important thing was he always gave me confidence,” he said. “When he was in my corner coaching, I was always more comfortable…. He could have stood there and not said a word, but just knowing he was in the corner fighting my battle with me made me believe in myself so much more.”
Trinity High School Principal John Cominsky spoke of the high expectations Coach Bentley held for students.
“What was so powerful was his passion for educating the whole student, and of the things he touched on as a coach here was how Trinity reached students in mind, body and spirit,” he said.
“He really had high expectations of his athletes, not only on the mat, but also in how they carried themselves, as well as for their education and spiritual formation,” Mr. Cominsky said.
Expressing Coach Bentley’s contagious passion and his desire for excellence in the lives of his wrestlers, Mr. Cominsky remarked that Trinity will “push forward with the foundation and success he established for the wrestling program as a way to honor him the best that we can.”
The school named assistant coach Chris Barrick to head coaching duties on July 25.
“I believe the best way to honor Coach’s legacy is to not take anything for granted and live your life around that,” Patrick remarked. “Live how he would’ve wanted you to live, choose a good lifestyle, surround yourself with the right people, and give your best effort in all that you do.”
For more information about Trinity High School in Camp Hill, visit http://www.thsrocks.us/.
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness