By TED RADICK
Liberty-Benton’s school board Monday voted unanimously to approve the hiring of Ben Gerken as varsity boys basketball coach.
Gerken, an assistant principal at L-B and a longtime assistant to retired coach Steve Williman, said he’s ready to put his stamp on a traditionally strong program.
“Coach Williman has left the program in great shape, so first of all I feel blessed that in my first basketball head coaching job I get to take over a program that had as much success as we’ve had over the years,” Gerken said.
In 33 years as a head basketball coach, Williman’s career record was 551-208.
He spent 28 of those seasons at Liberty-Benton, where his 516-133 record included a state championship in 1995 and a runner-up finish in 2007.
Now, it’s Gerken’s turn.
“I do understand who we are and what we are about, and that’s one comforting thought that I have: I’ve been lucky to coach under coach Williman for as long as I have, and he’s a great influence on me,” Gerken said.
“He’s had a great impact on my life and my coaching career. From him, I understand what it takes to be a head coach, and I feel I’m ready now.”
Gerken, a Holgate native and Holgate High alum, was an assistant at L-B for 15 seasons, the past 13 as junior varsity coach. Previously, he was a freshman coach at Columbus Grove for three seasons and a varsity assistant at Holgate for one year. He was head golf coach at L-B for six years.
“A lot of loyalty and trust in our program has been essential,” Gerken said. “Coach (Mike) Marshall has been coaching for 26 years with coach Williman, and he’s still going to be an assistant coach. David Rath has been our freshman coach for a decade, and he’s moving up to be the JV coach.
“It makes me feel comforted that guys who are familiar with our basketball program and how things are run are going to still be here. I don’t have to rebuild the program. It’s not going to have be a lot of re-teaching as far as scouting, player development and in-game coaching decisions.”
Gerken and his wife, Kim, are the parents of five young children and that, coupled with his duties as a high school assistant principal, forced him to do some deep thinking before applying for the coaching decision.
“I’ve been doing this for the past seven years, but I totally understand that the offseason stuff is a lot more than it’s been as an assistant coach,” he said. “I’ve been our assistant principal for seven years and I still teach a calculus class in the morning.
“I’ll say this, it was a family decision that my wife and I made. I do have five kids, and they’re all younger, but they’re now getting to the age that they’re into it. My boys have been managers the past couple years, and they like the game of basketball. Without their support, this is something I don’t think I could handle, but with their support I feel this is something I can do.
“The support that I get from our athletic directors, Scott Garlock and Nate Irwin, our principal, Brenda Frankart, and Superintendent Jim Kanable, I really appreciate that support. The support I’ve gotten from the administration has been huge. That’s the professional support I have, but there’s also the personal support I have from my family. ”
Gerken said taking the job after the retirement of a coach like Williman who built such a solid reputation was admittedly a concern, but he’s ready to take on the challenge.
“The community support our program gets, I really do feel blessed for that,” he said.
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