LAURINBURG — Laurinburg’s Benson Bell hadn’t stepped on a wrestling mat for tournament competition in more than 15 years.
But that didn’t stop him from earning a gold and bronze medal at the Powerade State Games of North Carolina in Raleigh on Saturday.
Bell, who turns 44 on July 4, competed against a series of wrestlers, including one of his best friends, in the open-freestyle wrestling tournament and the college division tournament at the Raleigh Convention Center. The open tourney featured eight wrestlers while the college division bracket had 12. Bell wrestled at 180 pounds.
Bell defeated Leroy Brown, a Laurinburg resident who he considers a “brother,” in the freestyle tournament title match. In the college division, Bell competed against a number of young wrestlers, ultimately falling to eventual gold-medal winner David Turner from Deep Run. Donnie Coleman from Marshville went on to score the silver medal.
Bell said he plans to give the gold medal to his 16-year-old daughter, Queen, who lives in Winston-Salem.
“I wanted to give the gold to my baby girl,” he said. “I’m going up there to give her the gold and I’ll keep the bronze.”
Bell mentioned Turner was the best wrestler he faced all weekend at an event in which he stood toe-to-toe with many grapplers half his age.
“That’s the only (match) I didn’t enjoy, and he got me. He’s good,” Bell said. “Technique and his endurance, he didn’t get tired at all. The other college guys I beat did but he didn’t get tired or anything, he was ready.”
The Powerade State Games of North Carolina is one of the largest multi-sport festivals in the state. It raises awareness of Olympic sports and acts as a “vehicle to motivate positive lifestyle choices, inspire value in education and stress the importance of family and community,” according to its website.
Various amateur sports tournament are hosted at the games — everything from baseball and volleyball to table tennis and pickleball.
Bell, who currently works at Impact Home Care on North Main Street, graduated from Scotland High in 1989 after moving from Baltimore, Maryland. He was a two-time Maryland state champion at Northern High School and a three-time Baltimore City title-winner while wrestling at 105 and 121 pounds before moving to Scotland County once his parents relocated.
Bell thought about staying in Baltimore with other members of his family, but decided to make the trek south.
“I wanted to see what the competition was like,” he said.
Bell had a successful start to his Scotland career before a falling out with then-coach John Blount led him to quit the team before the conference meet. He quickly mended his relationship with Blount, however, and signed on as an assistant coach with the Scots once a severe ankle injury cut his college wrestling career short at Morgan State University.
He served as an assistant from 1989-1997, then joined Richmond Senior’s staff from 1997-2007. After spending a few years refereeing, Bell returned to the sidelines as head coach for Marlboro County from 2010-2012. He continues to referee in South Carolina, overseeing matches from Bennettsville to Myrtle Beach, and also helps St. Andrews wrestling coach Joe Baranik with his summer camps.
While Bell did not compete in a tournament setting for over a decade, he felt he could hold his own against younger but less experienced wrestlers. He said his inspiration to take the mat once more came from Brown and his high school coach, Raymond Haney, which led him to begin training for the state games three months ago.
“I started running, push-ups, lifting weights, and some stretches and stuff like that,” Bell said. “I got on the mat a little bit with some St. Andrews wrestlers, so I said ‘I’ll take a chance’ and I did it.
“I prepared myself against different wrestlers and said, ‘Man, I can do this and do that, I should be able to handle some of these guys alright.’”
Bell’s trip to the state games were his first, but it won’t be his last. He said as long as he remains competitive, he will enter other amateur tournaments, including next year’s event in Raleigh.
“I enjoyed being a champ again and I plan on doing it next year and maybe the next 10 years. As long as I can train, I’m going to keep going,” Bell said.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.