By Mike Deak
SOUTH WHITLEY – Whitko made quite a splash hire when it landed Julius Mays as its athletic director a few weeks ago. Now Mays is making his own waves with the hiring of three coaches in its major sports programs.
Whitko announced the hiring of both of its boys and girls basketball coaches, as well as volleyball, and all three names carry some intrigue.
“I didn’t see this coming, but I felt like it could happen,” Mays said Tuesday afternoon. “The administration team at Whitko did a great job helping the athletic department grow with these hirings. I felt like I needed to make two hires, not three. But we got some solid people in place. Whitko is going in the right direction.”
At the top of the list is boys basketball and the hiring of longtime Columbia City legend Chris Benedict. Whitko fans know Benedict well as the basketball rivalry with the Eagles has been stuff of legend, and Benedict was in the middle of some of the classic matchups in the 2000s.
Benedict is currently 21st on the active wins list in the state with 411, and comes to Whitko after leading Bluffton to a 15-win campaign in 2019-20. Benedict was at Bluffton for five years, and has 28 total years of head coaching experience that has amassed eight conference titles, eight sectional championships, three regional championships, and a state runner-up finish for Columbia City in 2004.
Benedict, who is replacing Eli Henson – who departed for Manchester – earned a host of coaching honors with Columbia City, including IBCA District Coach of the Year in 2003 and 2004, Indiana Junior All-Star coach in 2003, and Indiana All-Star coach in 2005. He has served as a district rep, vice president, president and past-president for 12 years with the IBCA.
Sandy Benedict, Chris’ wife, is a work-based specialist at Whitko Career Academy, and the two have two sons, Drew, 26, and Matt, 22.
“Getting Chris was huge for us,” Mays said. “I didn’t play against him when I was at Marion, but we saw him a lot in the summer. It was a no-brainer for us when we saw his résumé, we had to go after somebody of his caliber. I would definitely play for a guy like him, and look forward to working with him.”
Sharing the court will be Justin Jordan, who will take over the girls basketball program. Jordan, like Mays, was an Indiana high school basketball standout and also coached girls basketball at powerhouse Marion. Jordan comes to Whitko after coaching with his dad, Lawrence, as Marion won 16 games last season. He replaces Mike Howard, whose Wildcat team struggled through a one-win season last winter.
Jordan himself was an Indiana All-Star at Fort Wayne North High School and later went on to play for Rick Majerus at St. Louis University then back home at Purdue Fort Wayne. As a senior at North Side in 2008, Jordan scored 27.7 points per game and was named a Supreme 15 player by Hoosier Basketball Magazine among several accolades.
“I plan to make these ladies better players, competitors, and most of all, fine young women once they graduate,” Jordan said in a statement.
Added Mays, who was also an assistant for Lawrence Jordan at Marion, “Justin is a good coach. He has a lot of knowledge about the game. I’m certain he’ll get the girls back on track again.”
The aforementioned Howard will shift from girls basketball back to volleyball, where he led the Wildcats to its only sectional title in 2016. Howard has made stops at Warsaw, Whitko and Goshen before coming back to his alma mater to coach his primary sport with his wife, Tricia.
Howard help create the Outland Volleyball Club, which has yielded several age group championships at the regional and national level. He also had a part in the JVA World Champion 18 Club Team. Howard is responsible for getting both Whitko and Goshen over the 20-win plateaus and had a strong run with Warsaw earlier in the decade.
“We are excited to continue growing Whitko volleyball,” Howard said in a statement. “We have more and more girls playing club and working hard to improve their volleyball skills. Our goals are to expand the volleyball foundation we have put in place so that we can challenge for Three Rivers Conference and sectional championships. We also want to help these young women become a success post high school in whatever they pursue.”
Mays recognized Howard’s ability in coaching the sport, and was happy the shift was made.
“We kinda knew his niche was volleyball, and while I wasn’t expecting to find a replacement right away, he made the volleyball hire pretty academic,” Mays said.