Rich Bender loved the game of baseball, enjoyed every day of coaching, but at 68, he felt that his health wouldn’t allow him to continue to work at his high standards.
So Bender, the winningest baseball coach in South Jersey history, resigned on Wednesday after 43 seasons.
Bender told his players in an emotional Wednesday meeting and then held a news conference later in the afternoon at Ott’s Tavern in Delran.
“I can’t do it anymore,” Bender said wistfully.
While not going into too much detail, he said his health was reason he was retiring. “It’s health issues but I am doing a lot better, but a lot better doesn’t work for me to coach,” Bender said.
Bender compiled a 672-349 record at Delran. The Bears won the NJSIAA state Group 2 championship in 1983 and 1995. Delran also won five sectional titles and qualified for the state tournament in 41 of his 43 seasons.
Bender was a history teacher at Delran for 34 years. He retired nine years ago from that job but continued coaching baseball. He started the Delran baseball program the year the school opened in 1975.
The Bears were a varsity program from the inception. “We were 10-9 that year,” Bender said proudly about the inaugural 1976 season.
During his 43 seasons, Delran won 13 titles in the Burlington County Scholastic League and finished first or second 28 times.
Another stat that shows his longevity is that Bender coached the sons of 24 of his players including Jim Goodwin, a 2009 Delran graduate who has assisted Bender the last four years.
“Coach Bender has given his life to Delran and done everything to make this program as good as possible,” Goodwin said.
Bender, the father of three children and grandfather of six, originally turned in his resignation after his fourth season, but after three weeks had a change of heart and went to then athletic director Bill Hillman to try see if he could stay on.
“I said 'Bill, I made a mistake and want to coach and is there any chance,’ ” said Bender, who starred in baseball at Hamilton West, Mercer County College and Rider. “He then went in his drawer, pulled out my resignation letter and said, ‘Here it is. I have been waiting for you.’”
No doubt Bender will miss coaching. He said he originally wanted to coach five more years, but he didn’t feel he could do it at his high standards because of his health.
He will still spend plenty of time watching baseball, including the Phillies, since he is a partial season-ticket holder. Bender will also find his way to see Delran play.