After spending six years in the U.S. Army Special Forces — including one year in Vietnam — Ron returned to North Carolina in 1969 to finish his degree at UNC.
Ron was a highly acclaimed high school athlete, playing three sports and receiving a college baseball offer — which he turned down on account of money. So on one of his first days in Chapel Hill, when a friend asked him to play a game called soccer, he jumped at the opportunity.
Ron had never heard of the sport before. He had only played soccer once, on a dog day in Vietnam, where he scored a pair of goals.
He was an instant success.
“(My friend) told me to get up front, and he would knock me the ball,” Ron said. “ I figured there’s not much to this game — simple enough.”
Ron fell in love with the game.
He worked with Rainbow Soccer founders Kip Ward and current UNC women’s soccer coach Anson Dorrance to start camps for North Carolina children and coaches.
But that wasn’t enough. Ron began to teach math and science at Chapel Hill’s junior high school and brought soccer with him. He created the first soccer team at the school and immediately contacted other junior high schools around the state to schedule matches.
This was his first of 42 years as a soccer coach in the Chapel Hill school system.
After starting up soccer at the junior high school, Benson moved to Chapel Hill High School in 1980. And after six years as an assistant, Ron took over the head coaching job for both the men’s and women’s soccer teams in 1986 — a job he held for the next 28 years.
But it wouldn’t be until 2014 — the final year of his head coaching career — that Ron held the elusive state title.
After falling behind early, Chapel Hill High School rallied to beat Weddington 2-1 in the state 3-A championship. But even then, Ron refused to take the credit he truly deserved.
“I was just really happy for the program,” he said. “Not for me. I was just lucky to get plugged in at the right time.”
Jason Curtis, an assistant coach on the 2014 women’s soccer team, said nobody was happier about winning a state title than the players.
They were doing it for Coach Benson.
“Every time the girls were interviewed by newspapers, they would say, ‘We’re doing this for Benson,’” Curtis said. “For us to win that game, it was pretty neat. Words really can’t describe it.”
Ron’s brother, Terry Benson, said it was a day he would never forget.
“I had my whole family there,” Terry said. “It was the perfect ending to the perfect career.”
But a state championship, the formation of a successful recreation soccer league and nearly 700 wins doesn’t tell the full tale.
‘That kind of underdog’
Ron won’t tell you the impact he has had on others.
Even as a boy, he gave to those around him — even when he didn’t have much of his own.
“We came out of public housing,” Terry said. “We grew up at Dry Pond, and if you told someone you were a Dry Ponder, it would bring fear to them.”
Ron didn’t need much, though. His grit, passion and attitude carried him a long way.
“People didn’t think he would amount to anything,” Terry said. “He’s always been that kind of underdog.”
To Terry, Ron was more than just a brother.
“I didn’t have a father,” Terry said. “So he played that role. Since I was 5 years old.”
Ron’s fatherly role transferred into the classroom, where he taught for 42 years, inspiring thousands of students along the way.
“He really gets the most out of kids,” Curtis said. “He tells them, ‘You can do it, because I can do it,’ and they really believe him.”
Terry said there’s something inherent in Ron’s lifestyle that is centered on serving others.
“He’s always wanted to be a mentor to young people and those he is working with,” Terry said. “He’s excelled in life and especially at mentoring, which is what we’ve been put here to do.”
Now, after retiring from his day job, the 74-year-old still finds a way to help.
It’s in his blood.
He refills the potholes in the gravel road in his community and picks up any tree limbs that litter yards.
“I truly believe that he just wants to make things better,” Curtis said. “It may sound hokey, but he wants to nurture the good he sees in people and bring that out in them.”
Ron still goes to all of the Chapel Hill High School soccer games. He keeps the scorebook from the bench but disappears as soon as the game is over. He doesn’t want any attention.
“I usually call him on my way home,” said Curtis, who became the head coach after Ron’s retirement. “He always has a good perspective on things.”
All of those accolades, all of those good deeds — but Ron would never tell you.
‘A hero to many’
In 2010, Ron had an itch to go to the beach one day, just as he did as a boy.
He was carving a wave when he saw a woman and her child drowning. Ron — a former Wrightsville Beach lifeguard — dipped into the water and brought the two safely onto his board.
Just two days later, he saved two teenagers stuck in a rip current.
But he won’t tell you these things.
“When I was a kid, if you scored a touchdown, you didn’t celebrate,” Ron said. “You were always modest about what you did.”
When you walk into Ron’s home, you won’t find trophies acknowledging his 695 wins as a coach. You won’t find plaques from his Hall of Fame career. You won’t find certificates commemorating the lives he has touched.
All of these things can be found in several boxes crammed in his attic, where no visitor can find them.
But you will find Ron Benson.
A man who loves above all else and is as humble as they come. A man who gives his time to the community. A man who served his country. A man who laid the foundation for soccer in North Carolina. A man who is a hero to many.
Even if he wouldn’t tell you.