Beloved Enfield Hall Of Fame Wrestling Coach Ben Aleks Dies At 76
ENFIELD-SOMERS, CT — Ben Aleks, a Hall of Fame wrestling coach who helped mold countless student-athletes in Enfield and western Massachusetts into outstanding young men and women, died Wednesday at Johnson Memorial Hospital. He was 76.
Following in the footsteps of his dad, a 7-time New England AAU wrestling champion, Aleks began competing in the sport as a teen, and it quickly became his lifetime passion. As a freshman at Springfield’s Cathedral High School in 1961, he became the first competitor to take the mat when the Purple Panthers started a wrestling program. He won his match in the 103-lb. weight class despite tipping the scales at just 95 pounds, and eventually won the city championship.
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He attended Curry College in Milton, Mass., which had no wrestling team, so he hitchhiked daily to Attleboro to wrestle for a YMCA team. He won the 1967 New England Championships at 125 lbs., and was runner-up in the National YMCA Championships in Toledo, Ohio.
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Upon graduation from Curry in 1969, Aleks began giving back to the sport he loved by taking his first coaching job at Milton Academy. A year later at age 23, he again followed in his dad’s footsteps and began coaching at Cathedral. In eight seasons, his teams compiled a 118-27-4 record, winning 94 straight matches against western Mass. opponents and capturing three western Mass. championships.
After a brief hiatus, he came to Enfield in 1983 to take the helm of the wrestling program at Enrico Fermi High School. He immediately instilled a winning tradition, directing the Falcons to a runner-up finish in the 1985 Class LL tournament, then taking second place at the State Open in 1987.
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Aleks stepped down from the Fermi post following the 1993-94 season, after amassing a record of 171-71-2 for a .705 winning percentage. His overall coaching record was 289-98-6, a .743 winning percentage, and following his official retirement, he continued to work as a volunteer assistant for another 25 years. He also assisted in reviving the Enfield youth wrestling program, which had been dormant for many years.
Former assistant Jeff Beiler, who took over as head coach upon Aleks’ retirement, told Patch, “Ben has been my good friend, mentor and confidant for 32 years. It was a privilege and honor to know him. Ben was an incredible and thoughtful man that will be missed by many. He impacted countless athletes throughout his years coaching high school wrestling. He will always be considered the Godfather of Fermi wrestling.”
His tireless efforts to establish a dedicated wrestling center came to fruition in 2019, when the former Fermi band room was converted into a practice facility. On Dec. 16, 2019, the Ben Aleks Wrestling Center was officially dedicated in his honor, and an annual multi-team meet at Enfield High School is named the Ben Aleks Duals.
This Saturday, seven scholastic teams from Connecticut and western Massachusetts will compete at the duals, beginning at 10 a.m. at Enfield High School. A brief ceremony honoring Aleks’ memory is planned just prior to the grappling action.
“Ben was one of the most giving people I have ever met,” former State Open champion and current Enfield coach Jay Flynn told Patch. “He gave of his time, knowledge and was always looking to help financially those who needed it. Aside from helping to pay for the current wrestling room, he was a constant donor to the program, dating back to when I was in high school. A simple example was the end of year banquet. Wrestlers were free, but parents always had to cover their own costs. He would always go to the coach and donate money to help cover the costs for families. I can’t count the number of times I had to stop him from giving money to the program and tell him that he had done enough. As a mentor, he always listened and was always supportive. If I had a question, he was always willing to help. In the wrestling room, he loved working with the wrestlers, helping them through techniques, and back when I was in high school, being a wrestling partner to help push the higher level kids. He showed people how you are supposed to live. Work hard, play hard and care about other people. He showed people that he cared by putting time and energy into them. Everything he did was always about the people he did it for. Yes, it made him feel better, but it was never about Ben; it was always about other people. He never wanted recognition for things he did. He wanted to remain in the background and make the success about the person or the program, not himself. He never tried to take credit for anything and always wanted the spotlight on someone else. The number of people’s lives he changed is countless, the number of kids he turned around is immeasurable, and the impact that he had in his life is unimaginable. If the world had more Bens, we would all be so much better off. I highly doubt I will ever meet a person like him again; he was one of a kind. He helped mold me into the person I am, and I am truly grateful. The world is a little dimmer today, but I will do my best to honor him by trying to live my life like his. He left the world a better place than he found it, and we all owe him. We need to pay his kindness forward and honor him by caring and helping those around us the same way Ben did. He will be truly missed. I’ll end with this short quote (not sure who said it):
“An excellent coach is hard to find, difficult to part with and impossible to forget.”
Aleks earned induction into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016, and his State Open runner-up team was honored in 2022. He received the John Wentworth Good Sport Award from the Connecticut Sports Media Alliance in 2021, and he reached the pinnacle of the sport with his induction into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum in 2022.
“Coach made a commitment to the sport, and his love for it stuck with him for life,” fellow Enfield Hall of Famer and former assistant coach Jim Olson said.
Prudence Crandall School principal Andrew Duperre, a champion grappler at Fermi under Aleks, told Patch, “This truly is a sad day for the Enfield wrestling community. Coach Aleks was one of the best ambassadors for the sport of wrestling. His victories extend far beyond the mat. The relationships he built and the lives he impacted are endless. Personally, he was many things – a coach, a mentor, but most importantly, a friend.”
Aleks was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and later became a proud volunteer for the In Case 1 firing detail at the Veterans Cemetery in Agawam. He and his wife Candy, who have been Somers residents for many years, enjoyed traveling worldwide, and a particular thrill came when he set foot on the hallowed ground of the original Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Former team manager Sara Levinthal told Patch, “I was so blessed to have Ben as a dear friend and mentor, and I am grateful to have been able to share in all his many triumphs. Ben was the kind of person who faithfully supported and cared for others so thoughtfully. He certainly did this for me, regularly checking in to see how I was doing and offering helpful advice when I needed it. I valued him and this beyond belief. My favorite memory really isn’t just a single memory but a compilation of memories. I smile when I think of all the times we gathered and shared stories from the “good old” wrestling days back at Fermi. We would laugh so hard at all our nonsensical behavior that we would be crying. Words can’t express how saddened I was to hear of his passing. The world has lost a truly great one.”
Besides his wife, Aleks is survived by a daughter, Jennifer MacDonald, a granddaughter, two grandsons, a host of other relatives and hundreds of friends.
Funeral arrangements have yet to be completed.
The video below, which served as his introduction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, contains dozens of photos and recollections of Aleks from several former athletes and family members.
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