Retirement beckons, but Rogers remains ‘a loyal Royal’
A funny thing happened to Benjy Rogers on his journey to play college football, graduate and then take a few jobs here and there before becoming a football head coach.
He played college football at two schools, college basketball at yet another and has taken on several jobs — none of which were as a football head coach but all at one school.
And folks in Cochran and at Bleckley County are pretty thankful that Rogers’ plans as a young man didn’t quite pan out. Instead, the town and high school have been home to a three-decade mainstay for both.
Rogers’ 30 years at Bleckley County as a coach, assistant principal and athletics director come to an end this month, beginning an adjustment period for the man and the school.
“He’s been here longer than most folks and been involved more than most,” said Bleckley County superintendent Steve Smith, who grew up with Rogers. “He’s a fixture. He’s so positive and so upbeat about the kids.
“He’s very supportive, even though he’s giving up his AD duties. He’s still posting on Facebook whenever our kids do something well. he’s very supportive.”
Indeed, Rogers’ timing is just about perfect.
Bleckley County captured the GHSA Region 3-2A all-sports trophy and was awarded the sportsmanship trophy by the region’s athletics directors. The Royals entered Saturday with four state championships this season — boys and girls tennis and boys and girls cross country — and the boys track and field team finished second in the GHSA meet in Albany, five points behind Vidalia.
With the baseball team’s quarterfinal finish, Bleckley County is likely to finish in the top three, at worst, in the Georgia Athletic Directors Association Class 2A all-sports race for 2016-17.
Bleckley County led Fitzgerald 716-641 in the latest standings, prior to the state track meet, but Vidalia will make a big jump after track and golf finishes are added.
“This is one of those years, it would be awesome if we could win the directors cup in Double-A this year,” the father of three said. “We have been in the top 10 the last six or seven years.
“These kids play multiple sports, most of them. They love it.”
The Thomson native is a walking and talking billboard for his adopted hometown.
“Cochran, you couldn’t ask for a better place to live,” Rogers said. “It’s easygoing. We’ve got two golf courses. I’ve got places to hunt, places to fish. We’ve got one of the best school systems in the state of Georgia.
“My wife is from Atlanta. I didn’t think we’d be here long. She fell in love with Cochran.”
Rogers has worked at one place since graduating from Georgia College: Bleckley County. He started thinking about retiring early in the fall. The football season progressed toward a 2-8 season and pressure on then-head coach Tracy White.
Rogers started talking with Smith about possibly retiring and thus wasn’t involved in the eventual firing of White and hiring of Von Lassiter — whom Rogers coached in football at Bleckley County — to replace him. Soon enough, Rogers made it official.
“I didn’t want to overstay my welcome,” said Rogers, who had hip replacement surgery in the winter. “And then things kind of progressed and things changed, and I went, ‘Maybe this is a good time. There’s a lot of change of guard, maybe it’s time to step back.’ ”
Not all small towns are lucky enough to have somebody move in as a youth, go to the high school, return home after college and become a mainstay at the high school for 30 years, doing whatever was necessary to make sure everything — on and off the field and court — was how it should be.
Smith offered an example of Rogers’ conscientiousness early in the football season. Rogers was checking things out for the home football opener and stopped by the visitors’ press box.
“The floor was kinda soft in there,” Smith said. “So he calls up the maintenance guy, and he’s already off for the day. ‘Look, we got these guys coming tonight, we need to get this floor shored up so they don’t fall through this press box.’ ”
Off to Bohannon’s Building Supply went the maintenance man, and soon enough, he joined Rogers in the press box.
“And he and Benjy are nailing the floor in two hours before the game,” Smith said. “That’s just the kind of guy he is, wanting to make sure everything is done.”
Rogers had head coach aspirations early on but then started looking around, and he focused on the big picture. Head coaches tend to move around by their own volition or because they’re told to leave. Rogers knew that all too well after working with three different football head coaches in his first decade at Bleckley County.
And Rogers has never been about ego, evidenced by how many different sports he has coached at Bleckley County, as a head coach or assistant: track, golf, boys and girls soccer, football, boys basketball and girls basketball.
“You think there’s jobs out there, but the grass ain’t always greener,” said Rogers, whose father Ben had a legendary career as men’s basketball head coach at Middle Georgia State when it was a junior college. “I’m a firm believer in that. We all have a purpose in life.
“When you look at things … I’ve been blessed more than I ever can return the blessings in life.”
He admits being scared of the change and knows how many coaches retire and return.
“I want to take a year off just to see, not to have to be the first one at the game and the last one to leave, not have to worry about physicals, to not have to worry about eligibility,” he said. “I might hate it. That’s what I’m scared of, of being bored.”
Rogers spent nearly a decade as assistant principal and pulled back on coaching duties. Then he took over as the athletics director, the first time the school had separated that position from its football head coaching position, in conjunction with the hiring of White.
And Rogers made the most of it by showing up pretty much everywhere the Royals were playing. Around the same time, he joined the executive committee and then board of trustees of the GHSA.
He gave up those positions recently upon retirement, with Dodge County’s Rex Hodges taking the executive committee position.
“He’s probably one of the cooler heads on the executive committee of the GHSA,” Smith said. “He does a great job being a voice for the small guy, the rural guy, like we are, and trying to help the other ones understand.”
Rogers thinks an executive committee member should be an active employee of a school or system, so while still very interested in the GHSA and the issues it faces, he stepped aside, but he’ll continue to offer viewpoints if asked.
One shock to Rogers’ system will come on Friday nights. For the first time in memory, he will miss some Bleckley County games but only because his son Tyler has joined the staff at West Laurens. Suddenly, Rogers can be in a football stadium on a Friday night and not worry about locker rooms or concession stands or rowdy students or the gate.
Rogers, as it turns out, won’t be completely absent from Bleckley County schools. For three years, he has roamed from school to school teaching adaptive physical education for special needs students.
“He just has this way with them,” Smith said. “He’s a gentle giant. He just has a knack with those kids. He actually in essence started that program; it basically began because of him and has continued and succeeded because of him.”
Smith said Rogers will, as is often the case in the state’s public education system, become a 49 percent employee for 2017-18, allowing him to retire but continue working in that teaching role.
It’s a role that brings Rogers his greatest joy.
“There ain’t a better thing in the world to do,” he said. “I never have a bad day at work. I love those kids.”
And he’ll get to continue that, as well as supporting the athletes at the high school he has put so much into. He won’t be far from wherever Bleckley County is playing something.
“I’m a loyal Royal,” he said. “I’m gonna be here if they need me.”