Prep Wrestling

Death of Tri-Cities wrestling coach and teacher a 'huge loss'

Ben Hill, left, coached the Kiona-Benton City High School wrestling team for 18 years. He died Memorial Day 2018.
Ben Hill, left, coached the Kiona-Benton City High School wrestling team for 18 years. He died Memorial Day 2018.

For 14 years, Rich Cunningham shared a corner of the wrestling mat with Ben Hill as they coached the Kiona-Benton City High School wrestling program.

On Tuesday, Cunningham still was trying to come to terms with the loss of the long-time friend who died early Monday of heart failure. He was 56.

"I live on a street (in Benton City) where there are several Kiona-Benton teachers," Cunningham said. "Yesterday was a day of walking back and forth just sharing stories. He cared so much about the community, the kids and Ki-Be sports."

Hill, who coached the Ki-Be wrestling team for 18 years, also was a sixth-grade teacher at Kiona-Benton City Middle School.

A celebration of the life is set for noon Sunday at Kiona-Benton High School. The public is welcome.

"I played tennis with him Saturday," said middle school Principal Chuck Feth, who worked with Hill for 22 years.

"He was good friend. This is a huge loss for the whole community. There have been hundreds, if not thousands, of kids who have been touched by him."

BenHill mug.jpg
Ben Hill

An informal gathering was planned Tuesday night at the high school football field. Einan's at Sunset is in charge of the service, which has not yet been set.

Hill already was a fixture with Ki-Be sports when athletic director Lance Den Boer arrived a few years ago.

"When I got there, he was one of the most tenured coaches," Den Boer said. "We hosted the the first round of district softball a couple of weeks ago and he announced for us. There were five or six of the kids who went up see him and how he was doing."

Ben and his wife, Lisa, never had kids of their own, but Cunningham said all the kids who came through his classes and who were on his wrestling teams were his kids.

"I helped him build an addition on his house and added a pool," Cunningham said. "I asked why, and he said so there would be a place for the kids to come over if they needed to."

Hill took over the Ki-Be wrestling program in 2000 after the late Bob Mars left to coach wrestling at Kennewick High School.

"We started coaching little guys together in 1994-95," Cunningham said. "He was an assistant at the high school at that time. Mars and (John) Hogg had Ki-Be going pretty good, but Hill was a taskmaster. His conditioning programs were legendary. The first practice we had 40 kids. The second day we had 21."

Hill coached three-time state champion Cruz Del Angel (2012-14), two-time champ Troy Cunningham (2007-08), and the third year of Ale De La Pena's three-year championship run (1998-2000).

Other state champions include Josh Corke (2002), Josh Corriell (2003), Brandon Ashley (2005) and Cody Zyph (2013).

"He was Ki-Be through and through," Cunningham said. "He pulled no punches. He was honest to a fault. If you weren't acting the right way, or training the right way, he let you know."

There were some years that Hill and Cunningham would comb the hall for guys to join the wrestling team to fill out the 14-man roster.

"He took pride in that," Cunningham said of the new recruits. "They were part of something, and that was important to him. Some of those kids never won but a couple of matches, never made it to the postseason, but they were the most important to him. That's what he was about."

Hill also coordinated the middle school's outdoor school program at Camp Wooten. Feth said he was camp director the past 15 years.

"That's next week," Feth said. "That will be really tough."

Annie Fowler: 582-1574; @tchicequeen