The Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame released the names of seven inductees into its 2017 class at the Hall of Fame’s Quarterly Leadership Luncheon on Feb. 21. Among its members is the first Oklahoma Christian University former athlete to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, assistant track and field coach and Oklahoma Christian alumnus Jeff Bennett.
Bennett graduated from Vinita High School in 1966, where he was a state champion in pole vault and placed in the top three in long jump.
“He was raised by his grandmother, and he had to do his part around the house,” Dean of Students Neil Arter said. “She didn’t need him getting in trouble. She needed him to keep his nose clean and do what he could to help.”
Bennett attended Oklahoma Christian College from 1966-1970, where he competed in 400-meter hurdles in 1968 and in the decathlon in 1969 and 1970. He received his bachelor’s degree in science education.
Upon graduating from Oklahoma Christian, Bennett was drafted by the U.S. Army. He was assigned to Special Services and competed in the Army track and field program. He won the International Military Games decathlon in 1971 and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1972, where he placed fourth in the Munich, Germany Olympic Games.
“He traveled the world with U.S. Olympics,” Arter said. “He told me a story one time, he was in a Soviet Union state, and they had never seen a black man. So he was signing autographs — not because of anything he had done with USA Track and Field — but because he was a black man. That is so bizarre.”
Following the 1972 Olympic Games, Bennett returned to Oklahoma Christian in 1974 as the assistant track and field coach and residence director until 1985. Bennett spent the next 28 years in public education, working as a teacher, counselor and administrator for Oklahoma City school districts.
Bennett also joined the Oklahoma Army National Guard following his discharge from active duty. He retired from the military in 2003 as a lieutenant colonel after 32 years of service.
In 2003, Bennett accepted a position with Oklahoma Christian as the associate dean of students and again as an assistant track and field coach.
Bennett’s responsibilities as associate dean of students dealt mainly with disciplinary issues, particularly in deciding punishments for students.
“He was a lot more intimidating to students than he was to us because the students really only saw him if they were in trouble,” Arter said. “You don’t really understand this unless you’ve had to deal with discipline or something, but at times when he was uncomfortable with what he had to say or what he would have to do, he would smile. I remember some students would walk into my office straight out of his office and he had told them they would be placed on probation. They would just be crying and saying, ‘He was smiling at me the entire time,’ and that would just drive them crazy.”
Following 13 years as the associate dean of students, Bennett retired from the position in the spring of 2016.
“When he was young, he got his Olympic ring, but he lost it when he was an RD at OC,” Administrative Assistant to the Vice President of Student Life Sonya Young said. “But Neil and some other people arranged for him to get that exact ring, and that’s what he got when he left the office in April.”
Bennett still serves as the assistant track and field coach at Oklahoma Christian, working primarily with the throwers and jumpers.
“Having Coach Bennett as my coach has been a really great experience,” sophomore, thrower Maia Zeno said. “Not many people get to say their coach competed in the Olympics, but I do. One of the greatest things about Coach Bennett is that he not only cares about me as an athlete, but as a person.”
Bennett’s induction ceremony will take place on Aug. 14 at Riverwind Showplace Theatre at the Riverwind Casino in Norman, OK.