Sirko controversy: Forgiven, not forgotten
Former Aspen football player Teddy Farrell spotted a familiar face in an unfamiliar position. The member of Aspen’s 1999 varsity squad was plodding through the crowds Aug. 24 during the Skiers’ first home game when he first learned his former coach was in the stands. So where was Travis Benson, the former Skiers standout and coach who unwittingly found himself at the center of a huge controversy in December 2006?He was far from the limelight on this night, inconspicuously sitting in the visitors’ bleachers amid a contingent of Battle Mountain fans.”He doesn’t want to be over here and have any issues,” Farrell remembers Benson’s wife, Sarah, saying. “He just came to see the game and the kids.”The image was unsettling, Farrell said recently.”I just thought it was unfortunate,” he added. “I wished things had turned out where Travis could’ve been a part of this. … It’s weird to see him sitting on the other side.”The move was deliberate.”I want to kind of stay out the way,” Travis Benson said Wednesday. “I don’t want to mess with anything great they have going. There’s no reason to have any dark clouds over there.”Dark clouds first materialized for Benson at the end of last year, when school administrators unexpectedly asked coach Benson if he’d be willing to take a subordinate role under school superintendent Diana Sirko’s husband, a decorated high school coach from Colorado Springs. The move drew attention from the public and the local media, and seemingly everyone in town took a side. While some cried foul and criticized the administration’s apparent nepotism, others said it would be in Benson’s best interest to learn from a coach with an impressive track record.Benson told The Aspen Times that the administration’s proposal felt to him like an ultimatum. He thought the process was unfair and eventually stepped down. Today, it would be understandable if Benson found Coach Sirko’s success unsettling. It would be understandable if he felt envy or dismay. But he doesn’t. “I feel a lot of pride for these young men, and I’m excited to see their successes and this program’s successes,” Benson said. “They’re going out and knocking off teams we haven’t been able to in the past.”I mean, there are always little internal struggles, but I’m very impressed with the fundamentals and the organization of the team. They play hard, and with passion and energy.”Farrell witnessed Benson’s own passion and energy firsthand. Even now, some 11 months since Benson walked away, the former player said he struggles to grasp why Benson isn’t on the home sideline. Farrell was one of many community members who wrote The Aspen Times to support Benson and oppose the administration’s handling of the matter, and he still feels the same way. “The fact that they’ve done well doesn’t change how the situation was handled,” said Farrell, a recent University of Vermont graduate. “It’s like he’s watching his players beat up on Battle Mountain, he’s seeing all the kids he taught, and it’s bittersweet.”[The administration] wasn’t there firsthand five to six times a week and during two-a-days. All the time and effort Travis put into it was just tossed out – that’s the biggest disappointment.”Benson harbors no ill will. And, like his former players and the community, he is moving on.He is happy to deflect attention from himself to his players, Benson said. While his former squad preps for a playoff run, he is in the midst of a similar situation in Glenwood Springs, where he’s an offensive line and assistant coach. The Demons are currently No. 1 in the state’s 3A rankings.But the Aspen players still occupy his mind. He still searches for game scores on the Internet on Friday nights to track Aspen’s progress.”There’s always a blessing in everything that happens,” he said. “It worked out great for all involved. … [Aspen] has everything going for them. They have a great coach who can take them to next step I honestly don’t know I could’ve gotten them to.”That next step is the playoffs. And should Aspen clinch a berth, one familiar face said he hopes to be on hand. Where he sits remains to be seen. “I have no problem watching an Aspen Skiers playoff game,” Benson said. “That’s been a dream of mine for 20 years.”Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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