Sports

Former Fermi Wrestling Coach Attains Highest National Honor

The high school wrestling icon will be honored as a member of the Class of 2022 by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.

Local wrestling icon Ben Aleks will be honored as a member of the Class of 2022 by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.
Local wrestling icon Ben Aleks will be honored as a member of the Class of 2022 by the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. (Candace Aleks)

ENFIELD, CT — For the third time this year, retired Fermi High School wrestling coach Ben Aleks received notification Tuesday that he had been selected to receive recognition for his contributions to the sport. The accolades have grown dramatically in scope, from local to statewide to national, with the latest honor being the highest an individual can achieve: election to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum.

Aleks, 73, received a letter at his Somers home from Lee Roy Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma-based hall of fame, informing him he has been chosen for the "Lifetime Service to Wrestling" Award. The letter "acknowledges that your life has been significant and you are leaving behind a legacy that others admire. You have a special place in the heritage of the sport and your legacy is going to be recognized at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum, Stillwater, Oklahoma."

Aleks was nominated for the national honor by the hall of fame's Connecticut chapter. He will be inducted as part of the Class of 2022.

"When I received the letter from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, I was in complete shock," Aleks told Patch Tuesday night. "I must admit I was overwhelmed with my emotion. I thought of my father, who would bring me to wrestling meets as a child. He would be so proud."

His involvement in the sport began at an early age, under the tutelage of his father, Benjamen Aleks. The elder Aleks was a 7-time New England AAU wrestling champion, and became the first wrestling coach at Cathedral High School in Springfield, Mass.

At Cathedral's initial meet in 1961, the younger Aleks was the first grappler to compete, winning his match in the 103-lb. weight class despite tipping the scales at just 95 lbs. Later, he won the 1967 New England AAU Championships and the New England YMCA Championships, and was runner-up in the National YMCA Championships.

His desire to succeed and be his best in every aspect of life extended through his days at Curry College, from where he graduated in 1969, then into his coaching career at Cathedral and Fermi.

At just 23, he again followed in his dad's footsteps by taking over the Cathedral wrestling program in 1970, guiding the Panthers to a 118-27-4 record in eight seasons, for an .805 winning percentage. In 1983, he was hired to coach at Fermi and immediately instilled a winning tradition, directing the Falcons to a runner-up finish in the 1985 Class LL championships with a pair of champions, a runner-up and two third-place finishers.

Two years later, Fermi placed second in the State Open on the strength of a second consecutive Open title by Jose Navarro, a future Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame honoree who remains the only back-to-back Open champion in town history. That same year, senior co-captain Mike Dobrzycki placed second in the 126-lb. division, and two other Falcons placed in the top four. That team has been elected to the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame, and is slated to be inducted at the 25th silver anniversary dinner on Sept. 24, 2021.

"Coach took an 87 pound little freshman, who knew nothing about wrestling, and with his teaching and technique, he really got me to heights of success I never thought I could reach," Dobrzycki told Patch. "His love of wrestling became my love of wrestling. His drive to make me better became my drive to work hard and be better. He instilled in me a competitive edge and work ethic that translated into success on the wrestling mat and lifelong."

Sara Levinthal, team manager during the Open runner-up campaign, told Patch, "I was delighted to hear that Coach Ben Aleks is being recognized with this great achievement. His ability to ignite passion and motivate his wrestlers was/is truly remarkable. Quite simply, he made his wrestlers believe in their own greatness while also competing with honor and integrity. Without question, this coaching philosophy contributed to his coaching success over the course of many years. It's been some time since those high school wrestling days. I'm proud to now call him a true friend."

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. During his tenure with the Falcons, his grapplers earned one high school All-American honor, two State Open championships, four New England Championship place winners, 19 State Open place winners and 11 class champions. He was inducted into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016.

Just because he was no longer the official head coach did not mean Aleks was through with Fermi wrestling, however. He stayed on as a volunteer assistant coach through the Falcons' final season of 2015-16, then continued to offer his expertise with the Enfield Eagles following the consolidation of the town's two high schools. He also assisted in reviving the Enfield youth wrestling program, which had been dormant for many years.

His dedication to the student-athletes helped resolve a major issue which faced the wrestling program upon the opening of the new combined high school. A $103 million renovation of the Enfield High School building did not provide space for wrestling, necessitating athletes to travel to the closed high school building across town to practice in the former band room behind the auditorium. The efforts of then-coach Jeff Beiler, then-assistants Andrew Duperre and Jason Flynn and several others, including Aleks, led to creation of a true wrestling showplace at the site.

With Aleks contributing significant time, effort and resources, a dedicated wrestling room was formally opened in May 2019. The walls are adorned with a complete record of Fermi and Enfield wrestling history, acquired due to diligent research by Aleks, Beiler and Hall of Famer Joe Andrychowski.

After receiving a plaque thanking him for his "many hours and selfless contributions towards the Enfield Wrestling Program," and for helping to make Enfield "a championship caliber program," the humble Aleks said, "When I came here in 1983, I said, 'where is the wrestling room?' I came from Cathedral, where we had a wrestling room. We never had one here, and neither did Enfield, but now we do."

Upon recommendation of several Hall of Fame athletes and board members, the Enfield Town Council unanimously voted to name the room after Aleks. On Dec. 16, 2019, the Ben Aleks Wrestling Center was officially dedicated.

His selfless dedication to student-athletes earned Aleks election as a John Wentworth Good Sport Award recipient by the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance. He will receive that accolade at the 79th Gold Key Dinner, which was originally scheduled for last April but has been postponed several times due to the coronavirus pandemic. The event is now scheduled for May 2, 2021.

Ben Aleks with his 1986-87 Fermi High School wrestling team, which paced second in the State Open and will be inducted into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame in 2021. (Photo courtesy of Enfield Historical Society)
Aleks as his 2016 induction into the Enfield Athletic Hall of Fame, accompanied by former assistant coach Jim Olson. (Photo: Sara Levinthal)
Then-Enfield coach Andrew Duperre presented Aleks a plaque at the opening of the new wrestling room in 2019. (Photo: Tim Jensen/Patch)
Numerous coaching colleagues joined Aleks at the official dedication of the Ben Aleks Wrestling Center in Dec. 2019. (Photo: Megan McNally)
The letter Aleks received Tuesday from the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum. (Photo: Candy Aleks)

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