Nathan Benner’s days as a La Salle College High School hockey player are dwindling to a precious few. The APAC playoffs are ahead followed by the Flyers Cup tournament and perhaps a trip to the state championship. But, at most a month from now, the senior forward will take off his La Salle jersey for the last time.
Benner, who is one of the Explorers’ captains, says his time at La Salle has shaped him as person as well as a hockey player. “It really challenges you,” he said. “Mentally and physically with the hockey, mentally with school. Every week you have tests, you have homework when you get home from school, when you play club hockey (Bennner is skating for the Philadelphia Quakers this year after spending his club career with the Valley Forge Minutemen) you have hockey five days a week, every day on the weekend, balanced with La Sale hockey. Just the values that they stress here, the leadership, the hard work ethic, good character, all in all has definitely made me who I am today.”
Perhaps what Benner treasures most from skating for the Explorers is having his younger brother Jacob in the stands watching his every move.
Jacob Benner is 14 years old and deals with the challenges of Downs Syndrome and Hirschsprung Disease.
Since Nathan started playing hockey the year he turned six, Jacob has been a fixture in the stands whether at a club game or a high-school game.
“He’s been coming to every one of my games from the time I was five years old until now,” Nathan said, “and he memorized everybody’s’ name on the team, everyone’s number, even though we don’t have names on the back of our jerseys.
“When we’re about to leave for a game he’ll go ‘Who do we play today?’ as if he’s on the team, His happiest time is when he comes to watch me play and when he gets to be at the rink.”
Jacob Benner flanked by brother Nathan (right) and father Walter. Photo furnished by La Salle College High School.
On more occasions than not, Jacob Benner is the most enthusiastic La Salle supporter in the building. “He’s the loudest one in the stands,” Nathan says. “He’s always yelling everyone’s name, yelling at the refs, yelling ‘Get into the game.’ Telling us to work harder; he’s always encouraging everyone. Everyone can hear him from the bench and everyone kind of smiles and builds off of what he does from the stands.”
Jacob’s support never wavers, regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard. “Just seeing him cheer me on and watching the games is one of the best things,” Nathan said. “Whether we win or lose, he’s always telling me ‘Good game.’ He loves watching me play no matter how I play and it’s always great to have that.”
Two years ago, Jacob decided he wanted to get on skates himself and began taking lessons at Hatfield Ice. Kati Link was his first instructor. He’s still at it and hopes to play hockey himself one day Nathan drives his brother to his skating lessons, swimming lessons, and other activities.
“At first it was very hard,” Nathan said of his brother’s first efforts on skates, “but he’s able to stand up now, he’s able to move around, and the smile on his face when he skates is one of the best thigs to look at. He always wears my hockey jersey when he goes on the ice and he loves it.”
Nathan Benner says spending time with his only sibling has altered his outlook on and off the ice. “For me, it’s kind of just helped me all around in life with maturing, leadership qualities, about being a good role model,” he said, “because I know my brother wants to model himself off of what I do. I have to be a good role model for him. Even if I do bad things, or say bad words, he models off that so I really have to be watching and be mindful of how I’m acting, because he’s always watching me and acting as if I would act.”
The 2020 Flyers Cup selection show will air Sunday, February 22 at 7 p.m. Eastern Time on You Tube