When the Palomar College men’s volleyball team takes the court for its home matches at the Dome, Rick and Barbara Bentley are among the faithful parents in the stands, there to support their son, Vern Bentley.
There is something a little different, however, about Rick and Barbara when they attend the Comets’ matches. They are also there to root on their grandsons, who happen to be Vern’s teammates.
“If you look at my high school yearbook, you can see my parents in some of the photos when I was wrestling or playing baseball,” Vern Bentley points out. “Now they are 91 apiece and still coming out to watch me play.”
So at age 55, Vern Bentley still does play, as a freshman defensive specialist for Palomar and first-year coach Bryan Campbell. He does not start and has been slowed a bit by a strained groin, but that does not keep him from attending all practices and matches while offering plenty of bench support for his sons, Keyen and Connor, and the rest of his Palomar teammates.
He also recovered from his injury to make a brief appearance in Palomar’s back line during a March 3 match against Fullerton. As someone who has been around volleyball for quite a spell, Vern has been doing his part to make sure men’s volleyball does not fade away at the community college level.
“When Bjorn had to leave, I was afraid the program might end,” Vern said, referring to former men’s coach Bjorn Dahl, who yielded his position for personal reasons. “When you hear that San Diego City cut its program, that adds to the concern.”
Vern Bentley is familiar with Palomar’s situation. He watched as his son Keyen made the transition from Carlsbad High to Palomar after graduating in 2010, only to see Keyen sidelined by a fractured wrist before the 2011 season.
One of the Palomar players who would have been Keyen’s teammate had he not injured his wrist was Campbell, who is now his coach.
“That was a bad break for Keyen when he was injured, but it’s great to see him back out there,” Campbell said. “The Bentleys are a fun group to have around.”
Vern did have a little nudging when it came time to go back to school and play volleyball.
“We all wanted to get him out here,” said Connor, a 20-year-old sophomore libero. “My mom was an assistant coach at MiraCosta after we moved near the college, and she was still playing.”
Ruth Bentley, Connor’s mom and Vern’s wife of 33 years, played collegiate volleyball at Long Beach City and Cal State Los Angeles. Now it’s Vern taking classes and serves.
As a student-athlete, Vern has to carry at least 12 units, and he’s currently at 13.
“I’m here Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 in the morning until 9:30 at night,” said Vern, whose courses include welding, woodworking and work experience. He has remained in competitive volleyball shape by playing recreation 4-man volleyball. He also coaches for the Seaside Volleyball Club of Rancho Bernardo.
A 1981 graduate of South Pasadena High, Vern says he’s happy to be back in school.
“We have world-class colleges right here in our area,” he said, “and you’re paying $45 per unit versus $250 a unit. You can get a great education here at Palomar and get a chance to play ball.”
Keyen has also recovered nicely from his wrist injury to become a formidable outside hitter as a 6-foot-4, 27-year-old freshman. He has become one of the Comets’ kill leaders along with another Carlsbad High product, sophomore Chandler Matteson.
Asked if he found it a bit unusual to have father-and-sons teammates, Matteson said they have a positive influence on the team.
“I like it,” said Matteson, who along with Connor Bentley was selected to the all-Avocado West League first team as seniors at Carlsbad High. “Vern always brings a good attitude, but everybody in their family always has a good attitude.”
Athletic Director Scott Cathcart admits he likes watching an athlete who is close to his own age compete for Palomar.
“That’s the beauty of community college athletics,” Cathcart said. “Age has no bearing on eligibility.
“But you have got to be able to play. He wouldn’t be out there if he couldn’t play.”
Hoff is a freelance writer.