Nobody toes the line between fiery competitor and a tad bit crazy better than Pillager’s Jim Bentson.
Whether it’s jumping out of airplanes or coaching, Jim Bentson is an intense, but disciplined leader. The husband of Joslyn and father of Jack, Jade and Jena, has coached basketball, track and field and football at Pillager.
More importantly, he’s served his country. Bentson took time away from his Fourth of July plans to talk about his time in the military, coaching and an epic death scene.
Q: For those that don’t know, you were a paratrooper before you came to
Pillager. How and why did you sign up for that duty?
JB: I read how Richard Coffey had grown 6 inches after he graduated and went into the
military. He was a paratrooper and I thought I could do something other than just
going into the Army. The recruiter said “jump pay” was an extra $100 a month. It sounded like a good time.
Q: Tell me about jumping out of operating airplanes?
JB: It’s an adrenaline rush like a big basketball or football game every time. Pre-jump and the eight hours before you execute the mission is the tough part. Once you get out of the airplane and are free of other paratroopers’ chutes it’s a fun 25-30 seconds. Then it's packing up the chute, orienting yourself on the drop zone and trying to find the Crunchies (Infantry) you support.
Q: What was time like in the military?
JB: Very rewarding. The Minnesota National Guard and 34th Infantry Division is one of the most professional organizations out there. I had many great mentors. The 82nd Airborne replaces us in Iraq and I just shook my head between the difference of the National Guard and regular Army. They were much younger, we were definitely better prepared and more seasoned in life.
Q: What prompted you to join the military?
JB: Money for college. Then George H. W. Bush and the boys in Washington thought we should help Kuwait. Oil. Then I re-enlisted a number of times in the National Guard. They almost always offered a bonus and paid most of my tuition up to my Masters Degree. I enjoyed the challenges.
Q: You were in the National Guard. What was your rank and responsibilities?
JB: I retired after 26 years in 2016. I attained the rank of Command Sergeant Major in the 1-151 Field Artillery out of Montevideo. I retired as an E-8. Training and mentoring between 100-500 soldiers.
Q: You’ve been stationed overseas a few times. What are those times like?
JB: Hard on my family. My wife is a rock star. I was on active duty from 2003-2016, almost four years plus schools, weekends and whatever else the Guard needed. I had it easy. She had three kids to raise, but my family and hers were very supportive. We deployed to fight the Red River flood in 1997, to Norway north of the Arctic Circle in 1999, Belgium in 2003, Iraq 05-07 (2 weeks shy of 2 straight years) and Kuwait in 2011. All with the 1-125 FA headquartered out of New Ulm.
Q: What aspects of your military training have helped you with coaching?
JB: Discipline is probably the first thing. People rely on you in the military and in sports as a coach. You must be responsible for yourself and them as well. I think firm and fair. In basic training a drill sergeant can only yell so much. In coaching it never works...
Q: Discipline is one of the big things I think about with the military. How hard is it
for you to deal with undisciplined students and athletes?
JB: Not at all. I think every student/athlete wants discipline, some just have no structure at home. As a teacher and coach you have to be ready every day. My dad and wife are better at this than me.
Q: What are your feelings about kneeling during the National Anthem or Team U.S.A. women’s soccer co-captain Megan Rapinoe not singing during the anthem out of protest for inequality?
JB: Good for them. I teach civics and they can choose to do that. However, I received
a great book from coach Dan Johnson recently. It talks about the “covenant” we as U.S. citizens have to each other. One way we publicly acknowledge this is standing and singing the National Anthem. I think we need more of that. Teamwork pulls people together, not always acknowledging differences.
Q: What does the Fourth of July mean to you?
JB: A remembrance to thank where I am today. There is but one to thank and we all know who that is. I am proud to have helped support the freedoms we have with the soldiers I served with.
Q: Is serving your country your proudest accomplishment?
JB: No, my marriage and children and family. It's a daily process for all, and I try to do better each day. The military and coaching/teaching is icing on the cake.
Q: You’ve coached football, basketball and track and field at Pillager. What is your
favorite to coach and why?
JB: Uffda...basketball has always been my favorite. Track and football is what we've had the most success coaching at Pillager.
Q: Your son is now on the varsity teams. Is it harder being a coach or being a
father in the stands?
JB: Harder in the stands. This past football season and basketball season was tough. Paul Peterson and Brian Homan did a nice job. My son is the total opposite of me when it comes to body frame. He plays fullback, I played quarterback. He's a post/wing. I was point guard. He throws the shot and discus. I made fun of those guys and ran from them. I must have done it a lot, because it made me faster. My son and my oldest daughter are both very competitive and driven. Me and my wife are very proud of all three.
Q: You’re daughter is on the Brainerd Warriors dance team. You don’t strike me
as a Fred Astaire type, where did she get her dancing talents from?
JB: Funny thing. My mom coached danceline at three separate schools in the 70s-90s. I just explained to her last year there was no way I volunteered to take tap dancing classes wearing that silk white, one piece suit. She says I did and my mother never lies. I was in many musicals in 4-H, community and high school. My mom always did the choreography. Great my junior year as an extra and my senior year I had a singing role and played two characters (they were twins and I had a very dramatic death scene!)
Q: You dad is a familiar face at any and all sporting events anywhere in the state.
What was it like growing up with him?
JB: That man deserves a Bronze Star. Always has led by example and had my back. Always willing to go to a game, drop me off wherever the military was sending me.
Q: His passion for high school sports is unmatched. What qualities have rubbed
off on you?
JB: Discipline, compassion and honesty. Give it up to get it back. Our new/old motto for basketball at Pillager. If you’re going to do something, do it right the first time. Be a professional. Focus on your strengths, others will point out your shortcomings for you.
Q: When you first got to Pillager, it was a small little Class 1A school still looking for its first state trip in many sports. Since you were hired the school district has exploded in size. The teams are now in Class 2A for almost everything. The Huskies have been to state in football, basketball, baseball and track and field. The one constant in that time has been you. Are you the reason for Pillager’s successes?
JB: I've never coached baseball. No, great coaching staffs/athletes and parents. I do believe that good coaches ensure each coach/athlete understands their roles. Lynn Peterson at Staples-Motley, Dave Galovich at Crosby-Ironton, Brainerd and Pierz in football all have great leaders and developed a process to win within their programs. Pillager has always had great athletes. I'm proud to have been able to coach and be a part of a lot of those fun teams.
Q: Seriously, what’s been the secret to Pillager’s continued growth and success?
JB: Continuity in most of those programs. It has been me and Erik Fornshell for most of 20 years in basketball. Scott Mudgett (2) and Jerry Fornshell (1) while I was on military leave. Football had good runs with Pete Bothun, Lowell Scearcy and now Paul Peterson. Me and Terry Hollingsworth have been here for my entire 20 years in track. Ann Hutchison, Jessica Davoli and Dan Johnson have now been here for a long while doing the real work.