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SMC BASKETBALL: Bender brings passion to Belles

Jay Fitzpatrick | Thursday, November 10, 2005

For Steve Bender, coaching basketball is not his job – it’s his life.

Beginning in his childhood and continuing throughout his adolescent and adult life, the influence of basketball on the first-year Saint Mary’s basketball coach has been constant.

Growing up in Michigan, Bender would watch his father coach men’s varsity basketball, and during this time, he fell in love with the game.

But there was one problem preventing his wish to play the sport – Bender was born with club feet, a condition that forced him to endure several surgeries. It prevented him from most sports or physical activities – including basketball.

“I couldn’t play basketball, but I wanted to stay involved in the game”, Bender said. “I knew then that I wanted to coach.”

Throughout his high school and college careers, Bender has been an active presence on the court, learning the basics of coaching and developing a further understanding of the game.

At Niles High School in southeastern Michigan, Bender received his first sideline experience as the basketball team’s manager. He then gained his first coaching position as a student assistant coach at Albion College, where he received his undergraduate degree.

It was there that Bender first began to develop his coaching style. Under the tutelage of men’s basketball coach Mike Turner, Bender learned how to coach basketball at a competitive level.

After earning a Master’s in Athletic Administration from Western Michigan University, Bender began teaching and coaching at Buchanan High School in Buchanan, Mich. Coaching both male and female teams, varsity and junior varsity and at head and assistant coaching positions, Bender fully developed his coaching strategies and game plans with fellow coach Bill Weaver.

“I had known Bill for a long time,” Bender said. “We grew up together and coached together for a long time at Buchanan. He helped me to develop the flex [style of play] I’m using now.”

While coaching high school basketball at Buchanan, Bender raised three daughters, all of whom are now college athletes. His eldest daughter, Lauren, attended Albion College where she played tennis, while his younger two daughters both play basketball. Ali is a sophomore at Albion where she played basketball last year, and Shelly is a senior basketball player at Saint Mary’s.

In fact, Bender partially credits Shelly with his move to college basketball.

Having been successful at Buchanan for 25 years, Bender was ready for a change.

Because he had better experiences coaching girls in high school than boys, he knew he would want to coach a women’s team in college. And since he had fallen in love with the Saint Mary’s team and campus through his daughter, the college was a perfect fit for Bender to make the jump to college basketball.

It is this intense love and dedication that Bender brings with him to Saint Mary’s as he enters his first season with the Belles, a passion he hopes will inspire his team to win.