From the Sports Editor: Wentworth made Wesley basketball his family

 

Jim Wentworth (right) is pictured with former Wesley College football coach Bob Andrus, who passed away last year. (State News file photo)

When Freeman Williams heard that Jim Wentworth had died, he did what his old coach would have wanted him to do.

Williams called some of his former Wesley College basketball teammates, both to share the news but also to see how they were doing.

“He preached family so much, that the first thought was to check on each other to make sure everybody was good,” said Williams.

Wentworth, who died on Wednesday in his home state of Kentucky at the age of 79, left a long legacy at Wesley.

Fresh out of Pfieffer College (N.C.) in 1961 when he was hired as the Wolverines’ men’s basketball coach, Wentworth didn’t hand over the reins until 41 seasons later.

His teams won 502 games and lost 465. He was at his best in Wesley’s junior-college days when the Wolverines went 394-225 and reached the Juco nationals in 1965-66.

Wentworth sent a few players on to major-college programs such as Houston and LSU and his squads played in big-time venues like The Palestra when they’d face those schools’ freshman teams before the varsity games.

It’s a resume that landed Wentworth in the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame.

Dover’s Bob Reed played for Wentworth in the early 1960s, when he was still trying to find his way as a coach. He said Wentworth was a pretty demanding guy in those early days.

But since Reed also ended up as a (baseball) coach and then athletic director at Wesley, he got to see Wentworth evolve over the next 30-some years.

“He was (only) about four or five years older than the guys playing for him,” Reed said about Wentworth’s first seasons. “So, at first, he was a young guy just trying to coach. I went through the same thing.

“At first, you can’t be friends with the kids. You’ve got to keep them at arm’s distance. But then he changed — I think we all change — where you finally realize, ‘Nah, that’s not the way you want to do it.’”

Once Wentworth’s first wife, Shirley, got involved with the program, the family atmosphere really started to take over.

Reed remembers Mrs. Wentworth always bringing in cookies for the players after games. Eventually, the Wentworths would have the players over to their home.

In later years, their son, Chris, became part of his dad’s coaching staff.

As he got older, Wentworth also tried to stay connected with his former players.

“If he ever did any traveling and he was within an hour of where somebody lived, he’d go over there, stop in and see them,” said Reed.

Williams played for Wentworth from 1995-99, at the end of the veteran coach’s career. He still holds the school record for career assists.

Now the head coach at Caesar Rodney High, Williams said he still uses things that he learned from Wentworth.

“To this day, a lot of his out-of-bounds plays are very effective,” said Williams. “And being flexible. Sometimes you can go big, sometimes you have to play small ball. It depends on the personnel that you have.”

More than anything, though, Wentworth impressed on Williams the idea that a team was also a family. Williams thinks it’s fitting that Wesley’s gym is named after both Jim and Shirley Wentworth.

“They were a team,” said Williams.

A few months ago, some of Williams’ Wesley teammates were visiting him. They decided to give Wentworth a quick call, just to say hi.

“We had a chance to thank him, we had a chance to let him know we were appreciative of things,” said Williams. “Knowing him, he was asking how we were all doing. We were actually trying to make sure that he was good and he was like, ‘Tell your parents I said hello and make sure you guys are doing well.’ That was the last time I talked to him.”

Ready to Roc(co)

To say that football has been Danny Rocco’s life might not actually be an overstatement.

Danny Rocco is only Delaware’s sixth full-time head football coach since 1940. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell )

With his dad, Frank, a long-time high school and college football coach in Pennsylvania, Rocco can’t ever remember not being around the game.

“As a little kid, all I knew was football,” said Rocco. “I did anything and everything, from ballboy to waterboy. I was screwing facemasks on helmets when I was 10 or 11 years old.”

An old-school guy like that seems like a good fit at Delaware, where he was hired as the Blue Hens’ new football coach this week.

At Delaware, which had just three different head football coaches between 1940-2001, history is still the lifeblood of the program.

The helmets and Delaware Stadium don’t change (much) in Newark.

Of course, back-to-back losing seasons and six-year playoff droughts aren’t part of that tradition.

So now it’s up to Rocco, a former linebacker at another old-school program, Penn State, to try to wake the echoes. The Hens’ loyal fan base is starved to see the winning football they remember.

“I want to win,” Rocco told the crowd of season-ticket holders on hand for his introduction on Wednesday. “I am intensely passionate about winning.

“This place has so much history and so much tradition. Tubby Raymond and national championships, Coach (Dave) Nelson and national championships. Six of them. … I’ve got a real clear vision and purpose for why I’m here. I’m here to help return Delaware football to a level of national prominence and put our brand back on the national stage.”

As he said those last words, the audience stood and broke into applause.

If he fulfills his promise, it won’t be the last standing ovation that Rocco receives.

Odds & ends

•Former Caesar Rodney and Cape Henlopen superintendent Dave Robinson was recently given a signed game ball from a recent boys’ basketball game between the Riders and Vikings.

Robinson is in Philadelphia, recovering from injuries suffered in a serious bike accident earlier this fall.

Dr. Dave Robinson, who is covering from injuries suffered in a serious bike accident this fall, poses with the game ball from the CR-Cape Henlopen boys’ basketball game. (Submitted photo)

•The Caesar Rodney High girls’ basketball team will get a quick rematch at next week’s Diamond State Classic.

The Riders will face Hodgson on Dec. 28 at 5:45 p.m. at St. Elizabeth in the first round of the Diamond State Classic. CR beat the Silver Eagles, 70-61, on Dec. 6.

•Smyrna’s Division I state-championship football team was ranked No. 16 in the Northeast Region by Maxprep’s computer rankings.

•David Sills, who earned some national attention when he verbally committed to USC before high school, has apparently given up on his dream of playing quarterback.

The former Red Lion Christian standout returned to West Virginia this week as a wide receiver after playing QB at a California junior college in the fall.

•Wesley College’s old football nemesis, Mary Hardin-Baylor, beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 10-7, on Friday night to win its first NCAA Division III national championship.

It was the first national title game that didn’t include either Mount Union or Wisconsin-Whitewater since 2004.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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