Hampton Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Benca was 3-sport standout
John Benca was a talented three-sport athlete as a student at Hampton.
As an assistant coach for the baseball team, he is still happy to be part of Hampton sports.
Come Aug. 31, he will be part of something bigger than just history, albeit in a much smaller club: the Hampton Athletic Hall of Fame.
“It’s always a nice surprise to be recognized,” said Benca, who starred in football, basketball and baseball at Hampton, graduating in 2002. “I’m still familiar with a lot of people in the school and community. It’s a good feeling, and you’re very appreciative of it.”
Mike Benca raised his son to love sports before the move to Hampton area.
“I was always hanging around him,” said Benca of his father, who was a teacher and basketball coach at Steel Valley. “Especially in the summers, we were always practicing and playing in the yard. He was probably my influence.”
Benca saved his best talents for the football field, where he was among the receiving leaders in Class AAA with 24 receptions for 444 yards and five touchdowns his senior year in 2001. More importantly, he was a part of the last Hampton football squad to go undefeated in conference play, going 6-0 in the Greater Allegheny Conference for its last outright conference championship to date.
“It was a special year,” he said. “We had a couple big comebacks. We were losing to Knoch, 28-6, with 10 minutes left and won the game in regulation. Beat Pine-Richland, I caught a TD the last play of the game. A lot of close finishes and a lot of breaks went our way, and we had one of those special seasons.”
Benca likes to remember the 2000 Talbots, who were five total points from posting an undefeated season. The team made the WPIAL quarterfinals, posting an 8-3 (5-1 conference) record.
“I think we had as talented, if not more talented, team my junior season,” he said. “I think just the talent we played and other good teams were that year, it was a tougher year. We lost a couple tough games.”
Benca did more than enough to earn a football scholarship to Slippery Rock, where he was a three-year starter. He also distinguished himself as one of the few that spent their entire high school and collegiate careers under the Mihalik family coaching tree.
Greg Mihalik served as Hampton’s coach from 1997 to 2007. His uncle, George Mihalik, was The Rock’s longtime coach from 1988 to 2015.
“If you meet the men in the Mihalik family,” Benca said, “they have the same voice inflection, the phrases they speak and words they use. It was funny to see people who were 20 or so years apart, but a lot of the same.”
One of the perks of playing at The Rock was seeing his high school coach from the sidelines, watching his collegiate games.
Benca was not a one-trick pony, as he played point guard under Joe Lafko, and was a three-year starter at shortstop for the recently departed Gary Wilson. He still conjures up memories of games that slipped away -- particularly the 2002 one-run WPIAL quarterfinal loss to North Allegheny.
“I would say if I had one regret not winning something ... my senior year we had a really good team. It was one of those rare things, we all played since we were 9 years old or so, and most of us stuck with it,” he said. “We lost to North Allegheny in a playoff game up at Butler on a home run. I think we were one of the best teams that year.”
That hasn’t kept Benca away from revisiting his old stomping grounds as an assistant coach for Hampton baseball.
“It gives you a chance to keep your competitive juices flowing,” said Benca, who lives in Mars and works as manager of health and safety for ABARTA Coca-Cola.
“One of the nice things is you see people you played with and against doing the same thing, so you can catch up on some old times.”