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A tough choice to leave the dugout

Todd Cline

Summer ball has started again, which is nothing new to Roger Parham, South Gwinnett's baseball coach. Parham has been going through the same summer routine since 1994, first as an assistant and now as the head coach.

But what has changed is that Parham's right-hand man is no longer there. For the first time in more than a decade, Parham is coaching the Comets without Todd Benton, who for 11 years was a loyal assistant but more importantly is one of Parham's best friends.

A former South standout like Parham, Benton has lived and breathed Comets baseball most of his life. Which made the 33-year-old's decision to get out of coaching all the more grueling.

Benton, a 1990 South grad, decided to step down from coaching so he could spend more time with his wife, Jennifer, with the goal of starting a family. He is continuing as a teacher at the school, teaching economics and government, but he'll no longer be in the dugout with Parham, the coaching staff and all the kids.

It was a difficult decision, but one Benton felt he had to make. One that disproved the notion that there's no crying in baseball.

"I'll tell you the truth," Benton said. "I haven't cried in five or six years but I've had three or four good ones (over this decision). It's easy to tell adults, but it's really tough to tell the kids.

"It's hard when it's been part of your life since you were little. I've been part of the South Gwinnett Association since 1978. It's going to be tough (not being in the dugout). It's easy now, but it's not February yet."

It's going to be tough for Parham, too. There are plenty of good baseball guys out there, but it's hard to replicate a relationship that began when both he and Benton coached under South legend John Sawyer and continued when Parham was promoted to head coach.

Benton knows Parham so well that to call him an assistant didn't do him justice.

"Probably the biggest (change) is I've never been out here without him," Parham said. "It's just going to be different. He could almost tell me what I was thinking before I said it.

"I'll miss him dearly. That friendship is going to be missed."

But Parham will have a team to coach, new assistants to bond with. For the first time since before he started in the youth leagues, Benton will not.

And that will take some getting used to, just like sitting in the stands. Which he plans to do.

"It's a part of my life," Benton said of South baseball. "And it always will be."

Todd Cline can be reached via e-mail at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com . His column appears on Tuesdays.