White steps down as boys volleyball coach

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MTT News's picture
Rob Reischel
Ben White took Middleton’s boys volleyball team to the state tournament 11 times and was named the state’s Coach of the Year twice during his 19 years as the Cardinals’ head coach./Times-Tribune photo by Mary Langenfeld

Ben White knew this day was quickly approaching.

The one where he’d have to pass the reigns of Middleton’s boys volleyball program onto somebody else. The day where he turned over one of the most successful sports in the school to another leader.

For White, that day came on June 12 — and understandably, it came with mixed emotions.

White was named Middleton’s new assistant athletic director. Due to the demands of his new job, White had to step down as the boys’ volleyball coach after a remarkably successful 19-year run.

“Middleton volleyball is something that has been part of my life for 28 years — and I'm not that old,” said White, who was also a player and an assistant coach for the Cardinals before becoming the head man in 2001. “It will always hold a special place in my heart. I am hopeful that in my new role I can help the new coach with any questions they may have and help provide any guidance they may need.”

White’s teams shined on the court, but they also excelled off of it.

White taught things like leadership and sportsmanship, and always believed sports was a conduit to life.

Many of White’s former players were sad that his coaching days were over, but also thankful for their time together.

“The bond we shared was irreplaceable and he taught me way beyond being a great volleyball player,” said Thomas Robson, an all-state libero at MHS in 2017. “He taught me so much about just being a good person and what it takes to succeed in life.

“As a freshman, I came in thinking about one thing and that was how to be better at volleyball, but after four years of going through Coach White’s program I came out learning so much about things like leadership, sportsmanship, and gratitude. These are things I didn’t even think about when getting started with the program, but could never imagine my life without them.”

Connor Zimmick, a former all-state player and assistant coach at MHS, is now a women’s assistant coach at Butler University. Zimmick agreed with Robson that playing for White — and later coaching with him — was a treat.

“Coach White will be incredibly missed by not only the Middleton program, but every program across the state,” Zimmick said. “Coach White was someone other coaches in the state looked up to and wanted to build their program after.

“His consistency, humor, knowledge and care for his players made him a joy to play for. I'm very thankful to have played for him, coached with him and for our continued friendship to this day.”

Few programs in the state have won as much as Middleton the past two decades.

White led the Cardinals to the state tournament 11 times and to the Final Four twice. Middleton went 172-28 in the Big Eight Conference under White (.860) and 448-172-19 overall (.716). The Cardinals currently have a 74-match winning streak in the Big Eight and haven’t lost in the league since 2010.

Under White’s guidance, Middleton won the Big Eight 13 times, had 12 Big Eight Players of the Year and 27 players receive all-state recognition.

White was named the state’s Coach of the Year in both 2008 and 2016 and was named the Big Eight’s top coach six times. He was also named the 2016-17 National Federation of State High School Associations Coach of the Year for the Central Section, which includes five states.

In addition, Middleton won the WIAA sportsmanship award in 2009 and 2016 with White in charge. The Cardinals also received the WIAA sportsmanship honorable mention award three times under White.

Two of White’s former players — Zimmick and Michael Owen (Miami, Ohio) — are NCAA Division 1 assistant coaches in women’s volleyball.

“My 24 years of coaching has given me stories to last multiple lifetimes,” White said. “Throughout the highs and lows, we always kept perspective on what we were trying to do: keep the ball from hitting the floor on our side of the net. Simple game. But the game provided bonds and friendships I hope you carry on for the rest of your life.”

White also had a way of keeping his team loose, even in the tensest of times.

Owen, a 2010 graduate of MHS, remembers the Cardinals being quiet and nervous before their 2008 sectional final against Burlington. White quickly found a way to break the tension.

“He called us in and said he had an inspirational poem he wanted to read to us before warmups from ‘a famous poet,’ ” Owen recalled. “He then started reading the lyrics to ‘Lose Yourself’ by Eminem in a serious tone with a straight face like he was at a poetry reading. It took us a couple lines to catch on to what was going on but we all started laughing and it did a great job of relaxing us. We went on to win the game.

“I am proud to have been a small part of the great program he built at Middleton. I'm glad to hear that he will still have an impact on future athletes at Middleton in his new role.”

White, who had served as Middleton’s student activities coordinator, was diagnosed with lymphoma in Sept., 2019. He stepped away midway through last season to focus on his health.

White is in remission today and excited to tackle a new challenge — even if saying goodbye to his old job was tough.

“The hard part will be in the fall,” White said. “I’m sure that's when it will hit.

“Kathleen — my partner — and I have talked about how every year our family grows from five to 50-60. We get to know not only the players, but the parents as well. They have welcomed us with open arms and this past year, our volleyball community helped my family in so many ways as we battled cancer. We are there for each other. I will always be there for the students — past and present.”

Justin Haack, who became the interim coach last year after White stepped down, along with assistants Andrew Bessick and Brad Denruiter have all decided to stop coaching. That means Middleton’s new coach will be someone that wasn’t on White’s most recent staff.

“I was blessed to have amazing assistant coaches throughout my 19 years as head coach,” White said. “For the last few years, those three have been rocks for our program. I cannot say enough about what these guys did last year. They went above and beyond and I will forever be grateful.”

The same can be said about White, who leaves behind a program known for winning — both on and off the court.

“On behalf of the entire past and present players of the Middleton boys’ volleyball program I want to thank (White) for the countless memories, friendships, laughs, and even tears you gave us,” Robson said. “The legacy he left is irreplaceable and is why he has created one of the most competitive programs in the state.”


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