By Tim Jensen
Courtesy of Patch Media
Ben Aleks, the Hall of Fame wrestling coach and benefactor from Enfield, died on Wednesday (January 10) at the age 76.
Following in the footsteps of his dad, a seven-time New England AAU wrestling champion, Aleks began competing in the sport as a teen, and it quickly became his lifetime passion. As a freshman at Springfield’s Cathedral High School in 1961, he became the first competitor to take the mat when the Purple Panthers started a wrestling program. He won his match in the 103-lb. weight class despite tipping the scales at just 95 pounds, and eventually won the city championship.
He attended Curry College in Milton, Mass., which had no wrestling team, so he hitchhiked daily to Attleboro to wrestle for a YMCA team. He won the 1967 New England championships at 125 lbs., and was runner-up in the national YMCA championships in Toledo, Ohio.
Upon graduation from Curry in 1969, Aleks began giving back to the sport he loved by taking his first coaching job at Milton Academy. A year later at age 23, he again followed in his dad’s footsteps and began coaching at Cathedral. In eight seasons, his teams compiled a 118-27-4 record, winning 94 straight matches against western Mass. opponents and capturing three western Mass. championships.
After a brief hiatus, he came to Enfield in 1983 to take the helm of the wrestling program at Enrico Fermi High School. He immediately instilled a winning tradition, directing the Falcons to a runner-up finish in the 1985 Class LL tournament, then taking second place at the State Open in 1987.
Aleks stepped down from the Fermi post following the 1993-94 season, after amassing a record of 171-71-2 for a .705 winning percentage. His overall coaching record was 289-98-6, a .743 winning percentage.
Following his official retirement, he continued to work as a volunteer assistant for another 25 years. He also assisted in reviving the Enfield youth wrestling program, which had been dormant for many years.
Aleks’ tireless efforts to establish a dedicated wrestling center in Enfield came to fruition in 2019, when the former Fermi High band room was converted into a practice facility. On Dec. 16, 2019, the Ben Aleks Wrestling Center was officially dedicated in his honor, and an annual duals tournament at Enfield High School is named the Ben Aleks Duals in his honor.
The Ben Aleks Duals are scheduled to be held this Saturday at Enfield with eight teams in attendance beginning at 10 a.m. A brief ceremony honoring Aleks’ memory is planned just prior to the start of the tournament.
“Ben was one of the most giving people I have ever met,” former State Open champion and current Enfield coach Jay Flynn told Tim Jensen of Patch Media. “He gave of his time, knowledge and was always looking to help financially those who needed it. Aside from helping to pay for the current wrestling room, he was a constant donor to the program, dating back to when I was in high school.
“A simple example was the end of year banquet,” Flynn said. “Wrestlers were free, but parents always had to cover their own costs. He would always go to the coach and donate money to help cover the costs for families. I can’t count the number of times I had to stop him from giving money to the program and tell him that he had done enough.
“In the wrestling room, he loved working with the wrestlers, helping them through techniques,” Flynn said.
“He showed people how you are supposed to live. Work hard, play hard and care about other people. He showed people that he cared by putting time and energy into them. Everything he did was always about the people he did it for,” Flynn said. “Yes, it made him feel better, but it was never about Ben; it was always about other people. He never wanted recognition for things he did. He wanted to remain in the background and make the success about the person or the program, not himself.
“He never tried to take credit for anything and always wanted the spotlight on someone else,” Flynn said. “The number of people’s lives he changed is countless, the number of kids he turned around is immeasurable, and the impact that he had in his life is unimaginable.”
Aleks earned induction into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016, and his State Open runner-up team from Fermi was honored in 2022. He received the John Wentworth Good Sport Award from the Connecticut Sports Media Alliance in 2021, and he reached the pinnacle of the sport with his induction into the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2022.
Aleks was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and later became a proud volunteer for the In Case 1 firing detail at the Veterans Cemetery in Agawam.
Former Fermi wrestling team manager Sara Levinthal told Patch Media, “Ben was the kind of person who faithfully supported and cared for others so thoughtfully. He certainly did this for me, regularly checking in to see how I was doing and offering helpful advice when I needed it. I valued him and this beyond belief.”
Besides his wife, Aleks is survived by a daughter, Jennifer MacDonald, a granddaughter, two grandsons, a host of other relatives and hundreds of friends.
Calling hours are Sunday, Jan. 14, 2-5 p.m. at Browne Memorial Chapels, 43 Shaker Rd., Enfield. The funeral is Monday, Jan. 15 at 10:30 a.m. at Holy Family Bhurch, 23 Simon Rd., Enfield. Burial with military honors will follow at Somers Center Cemetery, 81 Battle St., Somers.
The video above served as an introduction for Aleks at the 2022 induction ceremony for the Connecticut chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. It contains dozens of photos and recollections of Aleks from several former athletes and family members.
Tim Jensen is the sports editor for Patch Media in Connecticut.
He read Ben’s speech at the induction ceremony for the Connecticut Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2022.