SARATOGA SPRINGS — When Saratoga Central Catholic head golf coach Mike Beson was officially diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, on April 3, it was made clear that he would remain in charge of the program he made successful.
“That was one of the toughest phone calls I’ve ever taken,” said Spa Catholic’s athletic director Phonsey Lambert. “When he told me that he had ALS, his response in telling me this was that he felt bad because he didn’t want to let me down because he’s the coach of the golf team. I said, ‘Mike, I’m not replacing you as the golf coach and I’m not replacing you as the basketball coach. You are there forever.’”
Beson, 61, has grown close to the private school community over the last four years.
“I told them, ‘While this disease has taken a lot away from my body physically, nothing from my mind, my heart or my soul would have kept me away from coaching these kids,’” Beson said.
Beson has orchestrated a dominant force in Western Athletic Conference that just won the Section II Class C and D tournament Wednesday at the Ballston Spa Country Club, after going undefeated in the regular season and clinching a second straight WAC tournament title last Thursday.
“It’s been for Coach,” said Saints junior Dylan Seeber, who qualified for next week’s round of sectionals, along with sophomore teammate Drew Welcome. “Coach has been a mentor for us and has done everything for us. We couldn’t ask for more. Going out of his way even when he didn’t have to, he’s always been there for us.”
The magical season’s roots can be traced back to last year when Beson took the reins of the program and “molded the team.”
“He just dove right into it,” Lambert said. “Mike, just with his personality and his honesty and just the way he handles himself. He’s so respected in the league and by coaches. I never had to worry about anything. I never had to go to the golf course and talk to the people at the golf courses because I knew Mike handled that all. He’s just a phenomenal human being.”
Because of Beson, the program is now able to tee-off at Spa State Park, instead of playing at Pioneer Hills in Galway, bridging the relationship between The Spa and the school.
“That was big for our program,” Lambert said. “To be able to play golf in our own city. Nobody could have done that but Mike. He really moved mountains and created this family-type atmosphere with the golf program.”
This season, Seeber, Welcome and sophomore Kayla Szekely made first team all-WAC, while sophomore Colin Bradley claimed second team en route to the first time the Saints have sent four golfers to the Section II tournament.
“The most unexpected thing is we’ve been consistent all the way through,” Beson said in a whisper about his steady team. “We have a true No. 1 player in Dylan Seeber and then we have five players that can, on any given day, shoot in the low 40s. So the depth that we have is unbelievable. The biggest surprise this year and the real reason for this is because of Colin Bradley. Last year he averaged about 54 for nine holes. This year he’s shot about a 45, so he’s improved nine strokes.”
“We have a good group of golfers only made better by coach Beson,” added Saints assistant coach Dale Long, Jr.
Although Beson has been with Spa Catholic for just four years—being a top assistant for the basketball team, coaching golf and substitute teaching— he has been described as seemingly being there for “an eternity.”
“Ever since I retired from Shenendehowa, Spa Catholic and I just kind of adopted each other and helped each other out,” Beson said.
A retired assistant principal at Shenendehowa, Beson was also on staff for the Plainsmen’s 1989, 1990 and 1996 sectional titles in basketball, in addition to many other coaching positions for different sports at the school. He was also a head coach at Burnt Hills in the 1980s.
His attention to detail has always been one of the keys to his success. With the Spa Catholic golf team last season, he started distributing mapped out scouting reports of every course, while keeping a scrapbook of statistics from the first stroke of the season to the last.
But that attention to detail is something that has spread outside of sports.
“He can talk to any 17 or 18-year-old kid and make them feel good about themselves,” Lambert said. “His relationship with students does not just go to the athletes. He can talk to the kids in drama, the music kids, whoever. He just makes others feel so good about themselves when they’re talking to him. This school has really embraced him and this is before the man was sick. He is a very popular man at our school and somebody that we value in this community tremendously.”
This weekend, Mike and his wife Elly are making the trip to Massachusetts for the wedding of their only son, who also coaches golf and has made calls to their house every day to hear how the team is doing.
“Everyone’s been kind-hearted,” Elly said. “[This season] is just unbelievable. It’s just been something to take our mind off this horrible disease.”
“Unbelievable” may be just the right word for a 16-0 season, capped off by both a league and sectional title, but for the coach loved by so many, his word is “fortunate.”
“I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity to be able to coach these kids, and the amount of respect and loyalty to me, it has just been so inspirational and it’s kept me going,” Beson said. “It’s been an unbelievable season and a team I’ll never forget.”