College Sports

Former Winthrop basketball great, York Co. coach dies in crash

FILE photo of Bennie Bennett in action
FILE photo of Bennie Bennett in action

Bennie Bennett, 56, a member of Winthrop University’s first men’s basketball team, a Winthrop Athletics and York County Sports Hall of Famer, and the superintendent of schools for Newberry County school district, died in a crash early Saturday evening in Newberry.

The wreck occurred 6:26 p.m. Saturday at the intersection of S.C. 219 and Chapman Drive near Newberry High School. A Newberry County sheriff’s deputy was driving north on S.C. 219 with lights and sirens activated when the patrol car and Bennett’s vehicle collided, according to the state Highway Patrol.

Bennett was ejected from his vehicle and died at the scene, according to the coroner’s office. The deputy was flown to Palmetto Health Richland in Columbia with non-life threatening injuries.

“We are saddened by the tragic loss of Bennie,” said Winthrop athletic director Tom Hickman. “To lose two members of our Hall of Fame in a single week to automobile accidents has been quite a shock. Bennie not only made his mark with our basketball team, he made coaching and education his life’s work and was very successful in those careers. He remained a great friend to our athletic program.”

Former Winthrop student-athlete and Hall of Fame member Janiva Willis died in an automobile accident Tuesday night near Van Horn, Texas.

Chris Low, who writes for ESPN and has Rock Hill connections, called Bennett’s death “just heartbreaking.”

“I saw Bennie play back when Winthrop was just starting its team at Sullivan Junior High School,” Low said. “He was a super player and an even better person. After he started coaching at the high schools, he'd come over and have dinner some on Sundays.”

Low called Bennett a “treasure to the the entire York County community.”

Bennett, who played from 1978 through 1981, was the first Winthrop men’s basketball player to score 1,000 points in a career. He is ninth on the all-time list with 1,298 points. He still ranks in the Winthrop career top-10 lists in field goals made, free throws made and assists. During Bennett’s three-years, Winthrop compiled a record of 73-31, and during his senior season the Eagles finished with a 31-8 record, still the most wins in school history.

He was inducted into the Winthrop Athletics Hall of Fame and the York County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, and was a member of the Winthrop Varsity Club.

Following an outstanding playing career, he had a successful 15-year coaching career at Fort Mill High School and Clover High School. He served as athletic director and assistant principal at Clover High School from 1993 to 1998. He became principal at Clover Middle School in 1998, and later became the first African American to be appointed as an assistant superintendent in the Clover School District in 2002. He had served as superintendent of the Newberry County school district for 10 years.

Funeral arrangements for Bennett will be announced on Monday. Bennett is survived by his wife, Frankie Wright Bennett, and two children, Kelly and Brittany.