For Belfry ‘stat man’ Bennett West, it’s not just a numbers game
BY MIKE FIELDS
Ask Bennett West when he began keeping the scorebook and statistics for the Belfry boys’ basketball team and he answers without hesitation.
“It was at Virgie, November 30, 1978. We lost 106-79,” he says, deftly pulling the place, date and score from his mental encyclopedia.
In the 38 years since, West has expanded his role as Belfry’s “stat man.” He is now also involved in Pirates’ baseball, football, softball, girls’ basketball, soccer and volleyball.
Last week West logged his 3,000th game as Belfry’s stat man when the Pirates played in a volleyball tournament in West Virginia.
You read that right. He’s kept stats for 3,000 high school sporting events. And he has the scorebooks, notebooks and stat sheets to prove it.
“People ask me how much I get paid for this, and the answer to that queston is nothing,” West said. “But the love and respect I have for the students and athletes I work with, and the love and respect I get from them, means more than money could ever be worth.”
He did Belfry boys’ basketball solely for 22 years because the rest of his free time was taken up by working in the classroom and coaching the school’s academic team.
West eventually took on baseball and girls’ basketball in the early 2000s. He retired from teaching in 2003, but came back to serve as the school’s sports information director. When Belfry began a soccer program in 2005, principal Mark Gannon asked West if he’d keep stats for that team, too.
“I told him, ‘You don’t know what you’re asking. I think I can distinguish a soccer ball from a volleyball, but that’s the extent of my knowledge,'” West said with a laugh. “But I developed a system and it works.”
He’s done home football games for the last 11 years. He does volleyball when it doesn’t conflict with soccer (just as he does girls’ basketball when it doesn’t conflict with the boys’ hoops schedule).
He is a man for all seasons, but first and foremost he’s a man for Belfry.
He graduated from Belfry in 1967 and began teaching in the Pike County school system in 1976 at Bevins Elementary. (He was Gannon’s seventh-grade teacher.) He started keeping stats for Bevins’ football and basketball teams, and that led Belfry basketball coach Tommy Dean Runyon to enlist him to keep their stats in 1978.
He took a teaching position at Belfry in 1983, and over the years taught accounting, business law, general business, geography and economics.
West said baseball is his favorite sport to watch, “but my favorite to keep stats for is basketball because there’s so much action.”
He’s also been lucky enough to watch Mr. Basketball stars Todd May of Virgie, J.R. VanHoose of Paintsville and Ervin Stepp of Phelps hoop it up against Belfry.
West is one-man stat crew. While keeping the basketball scorebook he also charts shots, assists, rebounds, turnovers and deflections.
In football, he keeps play-by-play. In baseball, he keeps an old-school scorebook.
“One of the coaches offered to buy me an iPad for all the sports to keep stats on, but I said no. I’ve done it this way all my life. And I’m afraid with an iPad, I’d hit the wrong button and lose everything.”
Asked to name a couple of the most memorable Belfry games he’s documented, West again pulls the details out of thin air.
“In basketball, February 18, 1992, at the old Williamson fieldhouse in West Virginia. We lost 104-100 in triple overtime. Michael Hagy (now Belfry’s baseball coach) played every minute for Williamson and had 38 points. Our star, J.J. Hylton, who holds the school record in scoring with 3,140 points, had 36.”
The most hurtful game was in the boys’ soccer region last year.
“We lost to Pikeville 3-2 on penalty kicks after we shut them out three times during the season. I was more upset after that game than any I ever worked,” he said.
Football has brought lots of joy in recent years. Philip Haywood, the state’s all-time winningest coach, has guided the Pirates to five state titles since 2003, and three straight the last three years.
“It’s an honor to work with him,” West said. “As long as Coach Haywood is here, don’t worry about the football team. He has the ability to get talent out of kids who might think they don’t have any. He’s as good a motivator as any coach I’ve ever witnessed.”
West’s own numbers are staggering. He has kept stats for 1,738 basketball games and he’s closing in on 600 baseball games.
But West is more than just a numbers cruncher. He has an unwavering devotion and a special connection to Belfry High School.
“Bennett’s contribution to our school and our sports programs probably can’t be touched by any other school,” Gannon said. “There’s so many other things he does for our kids and our school.
“He monitors the kids’ grades, and when report cards come out, he’s double-checking them. He’s almost like a personal tutor for some these kids as well.”
West has also provided four flag poles for the Belfry campus since the school moved into a new building 12 years ago. He buys new American flags when they’re needed.
West has a stars-and-stripes story that’s especially close to his heart.
A former Beflry student, Jared Testerman, whose mother West taught, served a tour of duty in Afghanistan. While based overseas, he flew an American flag on a makeshift pole.
“When he came back, he gave me the flag and said he wanted me to fly it at home,” West said.
West had a better idea. He asked Testerman if he could fly it at Belfry’s baseball field, raising it and lowering it before and after every game, so it would last longer.
“The boy didn’t say yes or no,” West said. “Instead, he hugged me and cried. That tells you my relationships here.”
How much longer will West, 67, keep stats for Pirates’ sports teams?
“People ask me and Coach Haywood that same question,” West said. “We both have the same pat answer: as long as the Good Lord lets us keep our health.”
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