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Bison Legacy: The Benedict Family

Bison Legacy: The Benedict Family

by David Driver
Special to

The Gallaudet University Athletics Department continues its “Bison Legacy” series that features families that have a lineage to Gallaudet athletics. The series shines the spotlight on current Bison student-athletes and/or coaches and one of their family members that participated in Gallaudet athletics before them.

The second edition of Bison Legacy features the Benedict family of Germantown, Md. Dwight and Beth (Sonnenstrahl) Benedict both graduated from Gallaudet and Dwight played football and baseball at the school. Beth, a former Gallaudet cheerleader, is a Professor, Communication Studies and Dwight is the Dean of Student Affairs. Both of their daughters, Rachel and Lauren, played sports at Gallaudet. Rachel, a Gallaudet graduate, played volleyball and basketball for the Bison while Lauren, now a senior, was a libero/defensive specialist in her first three years in volleyball. Lauren is majoring in Digital Media and Communication Studies.

David Driver, a long-time sportswriter in the Washington area, sat down with the four members of the Benedict family to talk about the importance of athletics at Gallaudet and what it is like to be part of a family with strong ties to sports. Below are their responses:

This is for the parents: How did you first meet?

Beth Sonnenstrahl as a cheerleader Beth: We met at a camp before we got to Gallaudet. We really didn’t like each other at first (laughs). We were hanging around the same crowd. We had the same group of friends our freshman and sophomore years. We started to date, but sports did not bring us together.

Dwight, when did you play at Gallaudet? Did you play other sports besides football?

Dwight: My dad came to every home game that I played. I played for four years at Gallaudet. He was always there.  My parents never missed a game in my four years of high school. I played at Gallaudet from 1976-80. I also played two years of baseball. I tried out for volleyball but I was not every good.

Beth, did your parents attend Gallaudet?

Beth: My father got his M.B.A. from New York University and my mother got her B.A. from Gallaudet. My mom did not play sports. I was a cheerleader for one year. I went to Maryland School for the Deaf and I played basketball there. When I got to Gallaudet I went to all of the football games. I was definitely a sports fan. I understand sports, that is for sure. I love the Washington Redskins, even though they don’t play very well.

When it was time for Rachel to go to college, how much did sports play a role in that? Some parents like to see their children go to the school they attended. Was that the case for your family?

Dwight: I think the girls decided even before we had a chance to say anything. We are a sports family. The chance to play sports here at Gallaudet is what really did it.

Rachel: I was already decided. It was a given.

Rachel, was it difficult to balance sports and academics in college?

Rachel: I found that sports actually helped me balance my time even better. I would say sports helped me manage my time. I was a guard in basketball and a setter in volleyball. Basketball (practice) started in October and volleyball does not end until the last week of October. Luckily volleyball helped me with strength and conditioning. I already started the basketball season in shape.

Rachel, how did playing college sports help you in your career today?

Rachel: I am in graduate school at Boston University. My boss is my coach sometimes. You get a sense of community. You have a small circle of friends. You have to learn to navigate a relationship with people that are not as close to you. That is a skill you have to learn.

Rachel, are you still playing sports?

Rachel: I am playing basketball for a deaf club. Some of the players played volleyball with me at Gallaudet.

Rachel Benedict playing basketball at Gallaudet Dwight, what was it like to watch your daughters compete at Gallaudet?

Dwight: I had two hats at the time. I had to trend lightly. It was pretty challenging for me. I think I managed okay. I had to trend lightly because of the position I held. I tried to give my daughter (Rachel) space. I was definitely their best cheerleader. I make a lot of noise at games.

Did you as parents attend most of their games?

Beth: I always watched them play, at home for sure. We went to a lot of volleyball games on weekends. I always felt as a teacher sports is a good way for me to connect with kids in class. I subscribe to the athletic department sports announcements. Every game I would look at who played and tie those names with those in class then talk to the students and give them the support they need.

Lauren, what was your sports background and how did you pick Gallaudet?

Lauren: I played for Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick. I knew I was coming here.

Did you play other sports?

Lauren: I started with volleyball in middle school. I would go in and out of other sports, including basketball.

Lauren Benedict playing women's volleyball at Gallaudet Lauren, is it tough to balance athletics and academics in college?

Lauren: Actually it helped me. Because my coach is also a coach for the Olympic team they asked me to develop a website. I know volleyball and I know websites. Our volleyball team has a very high GPA.

Rachel: The balance really starts from elementary, middle school and high school. You don’t get home until late at night from practice. You have to learn to balance your time. I don’t see much of a difference here with that (emphasis).

Do you have a favorite memory of playing at Gallaudet?

Lauren: Last year we knew we would get through the NEAC tourney but we played a good team (Salisbury) in the NCAA tournament. We gave them a rough time. We won one set and almost won another set. It was just a good memory. (The Bison lost, 3-1, on Nov. 11, 2011, in Newport News, Va.)

Besides athletics at Gallaudet your family has been involved with sports on a national level with deaf teams. What are some of those connections?

Dwight: I was very involved with the U.S. deaf ski team. It was my responsibility to select members of the team. I turned that over to another person after 27 years. Rachel was the assistant team director. I helped to organize the 2007 Deaf Olympics. When the girls were small we would go to local ski areas. Once they got a taste of out west we were not able to get them to ski on the east coast.

Rachel: Even though we are talking about college sports, growing up the first sport for us was skiing.

Dwight Benedict as a baseball player at Gallaudet Dwight, what is the future of athletics at Gallaudet?

Dwight: When I took the position of dean in 2007 my first hire was Mike Weinstock. Mike and I have a strong belief in the value of sports and academics. There has to be a balance. The students are not athletes first. They are student-athletes. In a short five years we have been able to put our plan in place. Sports is one of the best things for recruiting and retention as well. When I took the position we had three full-time coaches and now have 12 or 13. We have three trainers. We are expanding our athletic department and I am not done.

Does your family still take ski trips?

Beth: It is easy to take our ski vacation during Christmas time. We try to get one week in for skiing. That has been successful in the past.

Do you watch sports as a family?

Beth: The Redskins are our favorite team as a family. We would rather watch on TV. There are captions on TV. We get more information when we stay at home and watch.

Lauren, will you come back to Gallaudet as a fan when you are done?

Lauren: For sure.

Rachel  and Lauren, do you remember how old you were when you first came to Gallaudet to watch sports?

Rachel: The first year I remember was the year the women’s basketball team went to the Sweet 16 in 1999. They found local family to back the players and called them the Bison Backers. None of the players were from the area. I think we went to all of their home games.

How old were you when you came to Gallaudet for your first game?

Rachel: I was about 10 and Lauren was 8.

Dwight Benedict as a football player at Gallaudet Dwight, what was football like at Gallaudet when you played?

Dwight: We had to buy our own shoes. We rode a yellow bus. I loved football so much. I played all four years. The athletic program was not so great back then. I played halfback and defensive end and I was a captain. We played against some big schools. We played Georgetown back then. We struggled. I think our best season was 5-5.

What is the importance of athletics at a school such as Gallaudet?

Dwight: Sports is a really big part of community life. It has proven to retain students. It helps balance sports and academics. We were thrilled when we got (former Major League outfielder) Curtis Pride as our baseball coach. He brought so many players into the program.

Beth: I always tell people: come to Gallaudet and play a sport and will have friends for life. I think that is an important message.

That is a good way to end. Thank you for your time.

Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer who has covered college sports in the Washington region for more than 20 years. A former Division III baseball player, he has contributed to The Washington Post, The Washington Times, the Associated Press, Baseball America, Basketball Times and in the past managed websites that covered the Washington Wizards and VCU basketball. He can be reached at