WELEETKA — Go down the line, brother by brother, and you're not going to find one of the Bencomas willing to take any credit for their individual athletic accomplishments at Weleetka High School.
All five have been part of football or basketball teams that accomplished something significant in the eastern Oklahoma town.
Four of them have helped basketball teams reach the state tournament, just as Shaun Bencoma, the youngest, has done this season. He and the No. 1-ranked Outlaws will face Laverne in the first round of the Class A state tournament at 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany.
None of them are seeking any individual credit, nor are they pumping up the family legacy — which is pretty strong, considering Weleetka has made the state tournament five times in basketball and won two football championships in the last 10 years, with at least one Bencoma brother on each team.
“We know that without those other players out there, we wouldn't have been able to do those things,” said Rodney Bencoma, one of a set of twins who are the oldest siblings in the family. “Me and William, for some reason, we got a lot of the credit, but the other guys on those teams, some unbelievable teammates. We could never take away from what our teammates did for us.”
Rodney's argument stands up, considering there have been some other great players teaming with the Bencomas through the years to keep the Weleetka athletic tradition strong.
However, the area of their lives where the Bencoma brothers should get some deserved credit derives from a decision they each made at a young age — a decision to keep alcohol out of their lives.
It's a valuable decision for any teenager or twenty-something in any town in America. But it's far more important for the Bencoma brothers, as well as their sister, Kristin.
Their father, Anthony, died in 2006. Their mother, Phenie, died last June.
Both were alcoholics who died of liver disease.
Yet it wasn't the death of their parents that turned the Bencomas away from alcohol. That choice came much earlier, and it came from watching what alcoholism did to the lives of the people around them.
“We're all pretty smart. We watched them while we were growing up, seeing what alcohol does to you,” said Eric, the middle of the five brothers. “We had a pretty good example of what not to do.”
The examples of alcohol's impact reached the brothers at a much simpler level, too.
“When I was really young, I realized I didn't want that as a part of my life,” said William, who works with twin brother Rodney as assistant coaches for the basketball team. “Especially when I'd see people who drank and how out of shape they'd get, so if I did that, I might get out of shape and couldn't play sports.
“I just didn't want to go through that. And if I ever have kids someday, I don't want to put a kid through that, because I saw my family struggle and I know what it feels like.”
But the Bencomas still deflect the credit for living their lives on a firm foundation.
For that, they point to God, and grandma.
Their grandparents, Marvin and Pam Brown, took the family in when Anthony and Phenie struggled to provide for all of their children in the mid-1990s.
The brothers, who have always had strong spiritual lives at churches in and around Weleetka, call Pam the toughest person they know, and the central foundational figure in their lives.
“She's tough as nails,” Rodney said. “She's been incredibly important in every one of our lives, especially when we've needed someone to go to.”
Pam had knee surgery two weeks ago. She was told to wait until after basketball season, so that she wouldn't have to miss any of Shaun's games.
Just days after the surgery, she attended the area championship, and she'll be in Bethany for Thursday's game, too.
“She's a fighter,” Shaun said. “She has helped me through a lot of stuff and encouraged me to get better as a person and a basketball player.
“She's our No. 1 fan. She's always been there for us, and she's a good person to strive to be like. We wouldn't be where we are without her.”