By Megan Hecox
Part 2: The Mansfield Years
It was March 2009 and Craig Bentley had just asked Sarah Fenwick to marry him. Sarah and Rylie were living in Fort Smith so that Sarah could finish taking classes for her Bachelors Degree. Craig was living in Pea Ridge where he had accepted his first coaching job as the Defensive Coordinator. It wasn’t easy being in a long distance relationship but through their faith and determination, they were able to make it work. It was the summer of 2009 and Craig was about to take his coaching career to the next level. He had just taken a position at Springdale High School coaching linebackers and wide receivers for 7A football.
During the entire first year of Craig coaching at Springdale, Sarah and Rylie continued their weekend road trips to Northwest Arkansas. Only this time it was to cheer on the Bulldogs. Although Craig only coached at Springdale for two years, he and Sarah formed bonds with some amazing people. Bonds that to this day, are still very much present through phone calls, Facebook, and visits.
On June 26th, 2010 at the First United Methodist Church in Mena Ar, Craig Bentley made Sarah Fenwick his wife. Getting married in the church that she grew up in was Sarah’s fairytale dream come true. It was a magical day, overflowing with the love of family and friends. Craig and Sarah had dated long distance for two years. Now for the first time, Craig, Sarah, and Rylie were all under the same roof. For the first time, they were a real family.
In the fall of 2010, Sarah Bentley started her teaching internship at Jerry “Pop” Williams Elementary in Farmington, Ar. A few months later in December, after many long days and hard nights, Sarah graduated from the University of Fort Smith. How could life possibly get any better? The stars had aligned to form this perfect world for Sarah. A beautiful daughter. Married to her best friend and love of her life. And now her Degree. Life was complete. Or so she thought. It was 2011 and Craig and Sarah were about to add a new chapter to their book. Sarah was pregnant.
The two had been tossing the idea around of moving back to Mena. Sarah’s dad had recently been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and she wanted to be closer to home to better help her mom. With her dad’s health rapidly declining (He would later pass away on November 4th, 2015) it just didn’t feel right to be so far away from home. Craig and Sarah wanted their girls to be raised up around family. So Craig and Sarah turned to the one thing that they had always counted on. Their Faith. And like he had done so many times before, the Lord provided.
Former Head Football Coach Jeff Weaver of the Mena Bearcats offered Craig a coaching position at his Alma Mater and after graciously accepting it, the Bentleys packed up and moved back home. All of life’s pieces were perfectly falling into place. Craig had started his job as the Jr High Defensive Coordinator and the bundle of joy on the way was about to make her grand appearance. On December 5th, 2011, the Bentleys welcomed baby Harper into the world. For the next year, Sarah enjoyed being a stay at home mom although she always knew that she would one day go back to teaching. And the following year, she did just that.
Sarah got a teaching position at a small school in South Polk County where she stayed for two years before getting hired on with the Mena School District. Craig eventually moved up to Defensive Coordinator at the High School working under Head Coach Tim Harper. Still basking in the afterglow of a new baby and enjoying the success of their new jobs, Craig and Sarah both had the same thought. That being back home, just felt so right!
For the Mena community, 2014 was one of the best football seasons the town had seen in a long time. The Bearcats ended up making a run at War Memorial which shot the football program through the roof. Its a season like this that is one of the highlights of being a coach’s wife. The long hours spent watching game film, attending practices and the ever abundant amounts of stress, all pay off when you get to see your husband and his teams hard work pay off. To this day, Sarah still turns into a giddy kid as she reminisces about that season. Sarah learned early on in her marriage that if it was going to flourish, then she was going to have to be 100 percent supportive of her husband. A job that she has hands down succeeded in. Is it easy? NO! But is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!
Years went by and Craig started to get the itch to move on to something else. Sarah had feared the day would come that Craig would want a new coaching position. The couple had built their dream home a few miles outside of town and had started putting down roots in the place that was going to be their forever. A house Sarah thought she would be enjoying grandbabies in. Time continued rolling forward for the Bentleys while each available DC position never really felt like the right fit for their family. All of that was about to change though. While heading back from an anniversary trip, Craig and Sarah received a phone call from Mansfield Superintendent Mr.Ross, offering Craig a coaching position. Shortly before this call, Craig had applied for a coaching job at Mansfield High School. The timing felt right. Craig and Sarah both felt like this was where the Lord was placing them.
During Craigs first year at Mansfield, Sarah and the girls stayed in Mena while Craig drove back and forth between the two towns. Come Friday Night though, the entire family was in Tiger Country for home games and on the road with Craig when the games were away. Don’t think for one second that Sarah would voluntarily miss one of her husbands’ games. In ten years, she could count on one hand the number of games she had missed. After a year, Craig and Sarah knew that it was time to make the scary yet exciting transition closer to Mansfield. In the summer of 2016 with their girls, cat, and 3-month-year-old foster son (who although no longer lives with them, will forever be their son/brother) in tow, the Bentleys moved to Fort Smith.
Craig Bentley is now in his 3rd year of coaching Tiger football while Sarah teaches 1st grade at Mansfield Elementary School. Sarah will forever be grateful to the Mansfield community, teachers, administration, and coaches for being so warm and welcoming to her and her family. When she first arrived in town, Sarah could feel the lack of enthusiasm for football. The bleachers were quiet, the players hadn’t bought into the current football program, and quite honestly, it just wasn’t a feeling that she was used to. Over time though, Sarah could see all of the positive changes that her husband has made right again.
Sarah will never forget walking into the boys run down messy weight room and seeing the incredible artwork that had now transformed it. Having been completed at the hands of Adam Hecox, he still continues to donate his time painting the town red. Its the little things, you know! It takes hard work, dedication, belief in your players and coaches, and the right mentality to build a successful program. The community, school, parents, coaches, players, cheerleaders, band, and fans have all played a tremendous part in getting the football program to where it is today.
Now, being married to a coach is not all glitter and unicorn kisses. The hardest part for Sarah are the critics. Craig can brush the negative comments off and move on. Sarah, on the other hand, is still in the process of growing out her thick skin. It’s not easy waking up at 1 am to find your husband watching game film, surrounded by scattered papers thrown all around the living room floor. The stress in his voice and eyes. Which is most likely the cause of those gray hairs in his beard. Phone calls from angry parents the moment he walks in the front door. Or the interruptions during family time. Those things are hard! Although not always easy, Craig really does do a great job at separating work from family. Sarah always tells Craig that its a good thing she loves sports as much as she does.
When it isn’t football season, you can most likely find Craig and Sarah at a gym or field cheering on the next in-season sport. Husband and wife time isn’t always spent watching sports though. A close second for the lovebirds is to cuddle up together and binge-watch “This Is Us”. Sarah looks forward to being a Coach’s wife for many years to come wherever that may take them. One thing is for certain. Sarah will always look back and smile over the memories that she and her family created in the charming little town of Mansfield.