It was one of the scariest days of his life.
“I just went in for a normal colonoscopy and found out I had colon cancer,” says Buddy Bennett, 55, of that day last February.
Almost immediately, Bennett started biweekly chemotherapy treatments. He requested doctors schedule the treatments early in the week. That way, he could be with his Plant City Dolphins family on Saturdays.
Bennett has served on the Dolphins board for 19 years — 18 as president of the youth football and cheerleading organization. His involvement dates back to 1984, when his oldest daughter, Ericka, started cheering. His other daughter, Kimberly, stopped cheering for the Dolphins in 1997, two years after Bennett took over as president.
And although he had no family ties to the organization for many years, Bennett remained involved. The Dolphins are his family.
They are a part of his life.
After news spread of his diagnosis, his Dolphins family wanted to put something together for their beloved president.
This Saturday, after the five age divisions of the Dolphins take on the Brandon Broncos, the organization will host Buddy Bennett Appreciation Day. As many as 500 people are expected to attend the free event, including past and present coaches and players.
FOCUS ON THE GOOD
Bennett has seen a large show of support from his community and his Dolphins family.
“People come up and just sit with me in the hospital,” Bennett says. “We just have a lot of support from board members, non-board members and coaches. They’ve helped me through a lot of it.”
Other than some fatigue a few days following the treatments, Bennett hasn’t suffered any of the more grueling symptoms from chemotherapy.
“I was in pretty good health leading into it, so I think that was a positive,” he says. “It will hopefully pay off in the end.”
Bennett’s brother-in-law, Buck Chapman, goes with Bennett to all of his treatment sessions.
“He gives to everybody else and is out there on that field almost every day, so I just try to be here and help him,” Chapman says.
Chapman says the idea of an appreciation day came up several years ago.
“This isn’t about him being sick; it’s about giving back for everything he has given through the years,” Chapman says. “He’s like a brother to me, as well as my best friend, all wrapped up in one.”
Michelle Diem, vice president of the Dolphins, has served on the board with Bennett for a decade.
“He’s just a phenomenal man who has given up a lot to be out there,” she says. “I’ve worked with him for 10 years, and I still don’t know everything that he does. He’s worked with thousands of kids, and many come back from college and as adults and now have kids playing for the Dolphins.”
The Sept. 7 appreciation day will feature free family fun, including bounce houses and a dunk tank, at which players can dunk their coaches. Area businesses are donated their services, including Johnson’s Barbecue, which will be providing food for the event. A 50/50 raffle and a silent auction also will take place, with all money raised going to Bennett’s medical expenses.
“This night is to not focus on the bad, but focus on the good,” Diem says.
Some may think the toughest part of operating a youth football and cheer organization takes place during the season, but it’s offseason preparations that make the operation work.
“A lot of people think that once the season is over and we have our banquet and give out the trophies, that we’ll start back up six or eight months later, but that’s not the case,” Bennett says.
As president, Bennett is involved with the day-to-day operations year-round.
“Any time you’re involved with a youth sports organization, you’re going to have parents who are not satisfied with stuff,” he says. “Sometimes, it’s a little difficult to deal with, but as leaders and board members and coaches, we resolve all those problems and get it worked out where everybody is satisfied.”
The Dolphins buy new uniforms, complete with players’ names, each season, giving the young players a keepsake of their time in the organization. This year, the Dolphins spent about $13,000 on new cheerleading uniforms.
“If the kids look good, (then) they feel good about playing,” Bennett says. “A lot of kids that have ever played before. If you give them a good uniform to play in, they’ll feel like maybe they’re a better player than what they are.”
The Dolphins organization launched in 1975 and regularly attracts about 250 youth football players and cheerleaders each season. The football teams have found plenty of success on the field, accomplishments Bennett attributes to great coaching.
“We have some coaches who have been with us for 12 to 15 years,” he says. “These coaches not only help these kids become better football players, (but also) they help them become leaders.”
As with most non-profits, volunteers are the keys to the Dolphins’ success. These come in the form of coaches and parents, who volunteer their time to work concession stands or run a fundraiser.
All funding the Dolphins receive either comes from registration fees, fundraising or sponsors. Although the city owns the Otis M. Andrews Complex, the Dolphins own and operate a building on the property, after moving to the complex from the Florida Strawberry Festival grounds.
After years of not having any family involvement, two of Bennett’s four grandchildren now participate in the Dolphins program.
Bennett’s oldest grandson, Colton, 10, has been playing for five years.
His only granddaughter cheers for the Dolphins, and his two daughters help out with fundraising and take photos on game days.
Bennett says he will continue serving the organization as long as he is able.
After his diagnosis, he has lived by a quote from “Good Morning America” co-host Robin Roberts, who has had her battle with cancer well documented. When accepting the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY’s on ESPN, Roberts said, “When fear knocks, let faith answer the door.”
“I just have to have faith that the Lord and my doctors will look after me,” Bennett says. “I’ve always heard the saying that you are never promised tomorrow. I’ve always tried to live life that way and maintain a good life.”
Contact Matt Mauney at email@example.com.