If size alone mattered in athletics, Ben Goodwin would neither be in his fourth year starting at third base for the Ferris Saxons nor, as a junior, have quarterbacked the Saxons to their first State 4A football championship.
Grit, intelligence and leadership have, in this instance, rendered size irrelevant.
“Being my size and competing at the level I do comes with challenges,” the 5-foot-8 Goodwin said. “I’m not the biggest guy, not the strongest guy, not the fastest guy.”
Hardly Lilliputian, Ben is nonetheless 8 inches shorter than Connor Halliday, the record-setting quarterback he followed.
After helping the Saxons to their football title, the following spring Ferris won the Greater Spokane League in baseball and qualified for state. Ben hit .333 and scored 24 runs while leading off.
This year, however, he has had a star-crossed senior season. An injury suffered last summer taxed the normally upbeat athlete.
Ben tore a ligament in his elbow playing summer baseball.
“I hadn’t pitched in about a year because there so many good players and pitchers on the team,” he said. “When you play six games in four days, everyone’s called upon to pitch at some point.”
He was in the second inning and said his arm felt good. “On one pitch, I guess something went wrong.”
The resultant ligament tear necessitates Tommy John surgery, which he postponed until this summer so he could play sports in his final season.
“I had never seen that anguish out of him in my life,” when he told his coach and friends, dad Dale said.
That injury paled in comparison to what the Goodwin family was going through at home. Ben’s mother Mary, whose lungs were failing, awaited a life-saving transplant. As her health deteriorated, she still watched him play from the sidelines sitting in a wheelchair and breathing oxygen.
It’s a family that has always seen things through rose-tinted classes, and remained optimistic that things would turn out all right.
“I don’t think anyone thought she wouldn’t find a way to get through this,” Dale said. “We’ve had a positive spirit about everything in our lives.”
Last fall Mary traveled to Seattle for the transplant and is anticipating walking Bloomsday in May.
She watched her son play football via computer. Dale was relieved by friends so he could make round trips from the hospital to home and be here for his son.
“It was one of the greatest weeks of my life,” said Ben, following the surgery. “It was far more important than school or football.”
Jim Sharkey, Ben’s coach in both sports, recognized his potential early.
“When we moved here my son (Drew) was going into seventh grade and they played on the same Grid Kids team,” Sharkey said. “Right away, he jumped out. He’s always been a very mature kid and I think that Ben is a tremendous athlete. Sometimes you look at him and don’t realize that.”
Ferris adapted its spread offense to capitalize on his mobility, leadership, ability to see the field, read defenses and get the ball in the hands of talented teammates.
“It’s been a year and a half and I still don’t think I could describe what that moment was like,” Ben said of winning the state championship.
Unsure of what to expect this season, bum wing and all, Ben found himself more and more under center, mainly as a runner but even throwing the ball on occasion.
Speaking about his baseball career, he said he doesn’t know what coaches saw in a freshman that led to his starting.
“The thing that impressed me,” Sharkey said, “was just his confidence when he stepped on the field.”
This spring has been a struggle. He still starts at the hot corner and despite his arm injury can still make the throw. But his offense has been hampered by a nagging hamstring that tightened and forced him to sit the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday. The year has, Ben admitted, been frustrating.
Still, there’s considerably more to Ben than just athletics.
He was a karate black belt by age 12 and the year before became a certified volleyball official, already working Division I matches as a line judge. He’s turned down opportunities to officiate the NCAA nationals because it conflicted with high school sports.
“He might be the youngest in the country,” said Dale, Gonzaga University’s director of publications and a volleyball official for three decades. “I never thought he had the chutzpah to take the abuse, but he did. He’s one of the best line judges around.”
The 3.9 student and Ferris student body president is weighing his college options.
He’s been accepted into the University of Oregon’s Honors College with an eye toward pre-med. He said he’d also like to continue playing sports and Whitworth has offered.
Nowhere in their wildest dreams did the Goodwins expect Ben to have a high school career such as this, Dale said.
“Has he exceeded expectations?” Sharkey added. “I think so, but nothing surprises me. His intellect is off the charts. I haven’t seen him fail at anything he’s tried. I don’t know when he sleeps.”
That in a nutshell is Ben Goodwin. Small in stature, perhaps, but big in every other way.