On York’s McClain Street in the 1980s, the only sound heard every day besides sirens was the snap of broken bones. People sometimes got shot. Those who didn’t, or did the shooting, often ended up in prison.
Shane “Hitman” Benfield was a kid on that street.
“I fought so much that if I beat up one kid his older brother or his cousin would find out and then I was the one taking the beating,” Benfield said. “Some people fought and they didn’t fight again. Because they were dead. Or in jail.”
A cousin was shot to death just yards from him. His father was dead. His mother worked at a cotton mill days and and tended bar at biker joints nights and weekends to make it in a life so tough that Shane hid under the tables as the roughnecks threw tables – and each other – through windows.
By age 16 Shane’s mother moved to Florida. But, Shane Benfield, star quarterback at York Comprehensive High School, refused to move. He lived alone so he could play football and basketball – and box.
He knew, at 5 feet 10 inches tall and 165 pounds, he was not going to be a pro football or basketball player.
So he tried boxing, first on the amateur level and then as a pro.
Benfield could not only punch, he could take a punch. His nose would break and bend and bleed and he would fight on. His forehead would cut and bleed and he would fight on.
He fought to crowds in York and Rock Hill and other places so wild that beer sales were stopped because the throngs from York would not only drink they would get rowdy and loud and want to fight themselves.
Benfield had mutton chop sideburns in those days and he would taunt with the best of them in boxing. He fought two guys late in his professional career, his only two losses, who fought for titles the next fight.
“I was one fight away both times from a title shot,” Benfield said. “A real title. I always wanted to be the best. No good. Not great. The best.”
Age finally beat Benfield after a record of 20-2 five years ago – age is the only foe who ever knocked him down.
A quarter century after starting outBenfield, 41, will be recognized. On April 22 in Charlotte, Benfield becomes the first boxer from York County to be enshrined in the Carolinas Boxing Hall of Fame.
He joins legendary managers and trainers who trained Benfield at the beginning, Marge Hammond and the late Charlie Hammond of Rock Hill, in the hall. Marge Hammond is on the board of directors for the hall. She will be on the dais as Benfield is honored.
To join boxing greats is for Benfield a huge honor.
“I’m proud they though enough of me to vote me in, Benfield said. “I was blessed by God with hard fists. And a hard head.”
The Benfield story is so much more than boxing. He was the kid who should have gone to jail or died, but didn’t. He became not just a hall of fame boxer but a roofer and husband and father who owns his own business.
“Shane rose from the violence on the streets,” said Lenny Carpenter, the York barber who cut Benfield’s hair for decades and remains among Benfield’s biggest fans. “All of York respected him.”
Benfield came to be a gentleman, Carpenter said, a family man and community icon who was the roughest, toughest boxer anybody ever saw.
“Everybody likes to have a local boy to do good, to make good, to be a hero,” Carpenter said. “Shane is our champ. He will always be York’s champ. He has always made you feel like you are a little part of it.”
After a great amateur career, Benfield turned professional and in 2001 started winning pro fights. He was rising through the ranks while at the same time making a living as a roofer. He also had a gym in York where he allowed anyone who wanted to train to come by.
12 wins he had a chance to join the Don King stable of fighters. But that would have meant leaving York and his wife Christy, and tiny sons Cody and Jake.
“I just couldn’t leave,” Benfield said.
In 2007 Benfield lost World Boxing Organization North American light heavyweight title match. In his next fight, he lost again against another top contender. Both fighters said afterward Benfield was so tough, with a head like a cinder block, that they were thankful to get out of the ring alive after fighting him.
Carpenter said that if Benfield had the right training, the right management, he may have won a world title. But Benfield said that the decision to stay home with a new family and his own business while boxingwas the right one. After two 2009 fights, including one in front of 1,000 plus screaming fans outside York’s Garden Cafe, and a last one at the Rock Hill armory in March 2011, Benfield retired.
In the last few years Benfield has helped launch football programs for York kids, coaching as many as three teams at a time.
“I let every kid know, especially those of them from the same rough neighborhoods like I grew up in, that they can make it in life if they try their best,” Benfield said.
He still has the roofing business. He drives through York with a ladder in his truck and a big grin. When he drives around York, everybody waves. They still love him and he loves them back.
“Small towns like this is the real U.S.A,” Benfield said. “We are different from the big city boys.”
Different meaning home is home. No regrets. You work hard, raise a family. You take your punches.
In addition to the hall of fame ceremony, April 22 will be “Shane Benfield Day” in York, said Mayor Eddie Lee.
The “Hitman” who learned to hit only in the ring, and became a model for other young tough guys because of it, in this small city of about 6,000 people will that day be number one.
“Everyone in this community, for more than 20 years, has followed him and been proud of him,” Lee said. “I look up to him. Everybody does. He’s been a role model for young people. Hes a father and coach and mentor. He gives back. Shane Benfield, he will always be York’s champ.”