The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill., Pat Disabato column
The SouthtownStar - 7/25/2018
July 25--Charlie Bennett has had to overcome his share of adversity in his young life.
He was hit by a car in junior high school.
His father died of a heart attack last year.
He's seen the effects autism has had on a younger brother.
The Bremen senior, however, never allowed those obstacles to sidetrack him from achieving his goals.
"I use the adversity as motivation," Bennett said. "It's easy to let things get you down. But all of those obstacles have motivated me to be a better person."
Bennett is a special kid. He has a 4.8 GPA and scored 1190 on the SAT.
He earned all-area honors in football as a two-way lineman and was named all-conference as an infielder in baseball.
In his spare time, he volunteers at special needs events, youth baseball and softball camps and community food drives.
Those good deeds and achievements helped Bennett earn a spot in the 96-member Semper Fidelis All-American Program, presented by the Marine Corps.
More than 6,000 high school student-athletes from across the country applied for such a distinction. Bennett was the only one selected from Illinois.
Despite the intense competition, Bremen football coach Dan Stell wasn't surprised Bennett was chosen.
"Charlie is a special young man," Stell said. "He's an excellent student and athlete. He's a leader. He's devoted to his community. He deserved to be recognized."
The honor included an invitation to the 2018 Battles Won Academy from July 12-15 in Washington D.C.
And, no, this wasn't a sales pitch by the Marines. In fact, Bennett has no intention of joining the military.
Bennett described the four-day event as a "life-changer."
"It was powerful," he said. "It showed me how to be a better leader and how to never give up. Be the best you can be."
Each of the honorees was allowed to bring a mentor to the Battles Won Academy. The only stipulation was it couldn't be a family member.
Bennett chose Stell.
"I've known coach Stell since I was in third grade," Bennett said. "He's pushed me and motivated me to where I am now. He taught me how hard you have to work to accomplish something. He's made me a better person."
Stell believes he and Bennett are better people after attending the Battles Won Academy.
"First off, I'm blown away and honored that Charlie chose me and I thank him for that," said Stell, 43. "I've witnessed some awesome things in my life. But attending this academy ranks right at the top.
"It was that powerful. It challenges you to be able to impact others. No matter how tough life can get, just do the next right thing. Things will certainly get better for you."
In other words, one must have the determination to fight and win any of life's battles -- no matter how difficult.
A vast array of speakers such as Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, Olympic wrestler Robby Smith, ESPN anchor Sage Steele and Rutgers women's basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer provided inspiring life messages.
It wasn't all talk and no action, however.
There was boot camp, which included simulated military missions. There was a CrossFit challenge and visits to the National Archives and National Museum of the Marine Corps.
"We were screamed and hollered at by a drill sergeant," Bennett said. "I got a good taste of what being pushed to the limit is. But you never give up and keep fighting."
There also was a lesson in community service.
"We built bikes for the boys and girls club in Washington," Bennett said. "The look on the kids' faces when they saw the bikes was heartwarming."
There was another message: Make an impact in life. Bennett and Stell are even more inspired now to do that.
"There are times I wake in the morning and I'm not motivated," Bennett said. "But I think about all I learned during those four days and I make sure to get up and do something. Make an impact, be a leader."
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