'Do what's right' Coach encourages folks to continue living King's dream

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka

Salisbury Post

Coastal Carolina University Football Coach David Bennett recently interviewed for the opening at his alma mater, Presbyterian College.

He wasn’t going to accept Presbyterian’s invitation at first. He liked his situation at Coastal Carolina, where he has built the football program from the ground up.

But Bennett’s wife ordered him to go, and Bennett realized she was right.

Wasn’t he the coach who had always preached to his players the importance of being humble, to avoid thinking they were better than anyone else?

So he interviewed at Presbyterian and, when he returned to Conway, Coastal Carolina officials, fearful of losing their successful coach, said, “Hey, we want to do things for you,” Bennett recalled.

“So that was a pretty good trip,” he said.

Somebody will brag on you if it’s warranted, Bennett told an overflow crowd Monday at the 21st Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Breakfast in Salisbury. But you don’t have to brag on yourself.

Bennett’s straight-to-the-heart, down-home message at the King breakfast often left his audience laughing or murmuring collective amens.

He sprinkled his address with plenty of faith-inspired anecdotes, and the overriding theme was something that could have come from the preachings of King.

Bennett said he believes that every person is born with a hole in his or her heart, and each hole is in the shape of a cross.

The question during your lifetime becomes, Bennett said, how do you fill it in?

King knew what could fill those holes, Bennett said. It took living beside each other, working together and letting his dream live on.

When Bennett finished with his message, many in the Civic Center crowd felt like suiting up for one of his football teams.

A person could cross-stitch pillows with the simple kernels of wisdom Bennett delivered Monday:

* Have good ethics. Do what’s right.

* Have a great attitude. “Get up and get going,” Bennett said. “It is contagious.”

* Enjoy every day as though it’s your last, because it could be.

* Respect everyone. In heaven, Bennett said, your soul doesn’t have a color.

* Live on earth as you would when you get to heaven.

* Dealing with adversity — and you will, he promised — is God’s way of molding and shaping you.

* Seek wisdom — stop and listen to others, even children.

One of his children lost a good friend in an accident, Bennett said, and their whole family was distraught because of the tragedy. But Hayes, their daughter, walked into the room where they all had gathered, noted that her friend had died on Good Friday — the same day as Jesus — and declared. “I know where he is.”

* Have integrity. It will pay you back.

* Never lose faith. Thank God for making you strong, Bennett said.

Bennett recounted with emotion the death of his mother last fall, as the whole family was at his house, getting ready to play nationally ranked Furman.

He immediately grabbed his father and assured him she wasn’t suffering from the cancer any longer.

And later, when the coroner told Bennett he would need to see his mother, Bennett informed him he better get a ticket because she had gone to heaven.

Bennett, 45, recently completed his fifth season at Coastal Carolina, where he has a 34-11 record. In 2006, Coastal Carolina ended the regular season as Big South co-champions and made the NCAA I-AA playoffs for the first time in school history.

Bennett signed on as Coastal Carolina’s first coach after seven years at Salisbury’s Catawba College, where he had a record of 63-17 and led the team to three consecutive NCAA Division II playoff appearances.

Food Lion again served as sponsor for the breakfast, organized by the Salisbury-Rowan Human Relations Council.

The Humanitarian Breakfast Committee, chaired by Catherine Rivens, included Terry Cassell, Ruth Chaparro, the Rev. Robert Freeman, Betty Jo Hardy, Peggy Johnson, Wilson Lopez, the Rev. Dr. Fleming Otey, the Rev. Dr. Andrew Whitted, Bob Setzer and Amy Stokes.

Rebecca Stinson and the Knox Middle School Jazz Band, under the direction of Sam Kyzer, provided the entertainment.

Freeman, in giving the morning’s invocation, said King “reminds us of who we are as Christians and Americans,” because of his accomplishments as both a civic and religious leader.

King, who was killed by an assassin April 4, 1968, would have been 78 this year.

Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz and Rowan County Commissioner Tina Hall had proclamations and comments for the crowd of more than 500.

In her 10th year as mayor, Kluttz said, she sees hundreds of people working to improve race relations in Salisbury through all kinds of groups such as the Human Relations Council, Mayor’s Spirit Luncheon, the Covenant Community Connection, Project SAFE, Project HOPE, the Community Development Corp., Habitat for Humanity, Rowan Helping Ministries and others.

Kluttz recalled last year’s visit by a delegation from Salisbury, England, and how 90 choir members from downtown churches — black and white congregations — joined together for a musical program at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.

The choir reflected how diverse Salisbury is and, as she watched, Kluttz couldn’t help but tell her pastor what a beautiful sight it was.

Her pastor told her it was what heaven looks like.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@salisburypost.com.