Orange County: Popular Woodbridge wrestling coach died of heart disease

Kent Bentley, who coached wrestling for 12 seasons at Woodbridge and also taught English at the Irvine school, collapsed and died in his classroom Monday. He was 46.

Better known as K.J. Bentley, he often wrestled with his athletes and by all appearances was in very good shape and physical health. The Orange County Coroner attributed the death to natural causes stemming from atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or clogged arteries.

Bentley often ate lunch with another teacher, Jeff Alexander, who discovered his friend on the floor of his classroom about the same time as some students during the lunch break, according to athletic director Alan Dugard. Alexander applied CPR but was unable to revive Bentley.

The wrestling team, which includes 45-50 athletes and is one of the larger ones on the campus, was told of the news at the end of the school day by principal Jason Viloria.

A candlelight vigil is scheduled at the school at 7 p.m. By Tuesday afternoon, students had written notes on Bentley's classroom door and it was adorned with flowers. The classroom was sealed and his classes were being taught in a separate building.

"He was integral to our staff and one of the most compellingly nice guys you'd want to meet," Dugard said. "He was a wonderful coach with a great following, trained a lot of really good coaches and wrestlers, and from our standpoint the loss is not just a wrestling coach, but a wonderful teacher and wonderful human being. We're in deep sorrow here on campus."

The son of a wrestling coach, Bentley was an outstanding grappler at Irvine High and won a league championship in his lower weight class in 1982. He began his coaching career there in 1997 as an assistant to John Phillips. He left after two seasons to become head coach at Woodbridge in 1999. The program won the Sea View League title in 2007, and Bentley had expressed optimism to friends about this year's team.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, and daughters Jill and Katie.

The district provided six school psychologists to the school, and the Irvine Police offered services of its Trauma Intervention Program. According to Ian Hanigan, the Irvine Unified School District public information officer, a large number of students are taking advantage of the grief counseling that is being offered, and counselors will remain on site through the week.

"He was an extremely popular guy, someone who was able to engage with his students as a teacher and coach," Hanigan said. "He didn't motivate by yelling or screaming, he was a guy who could roll up his sleeves and do whatever he could to get his kids to maximize their potential."

Bentley had not yet hired an assistant coach for the 2010-11 season, and Dugard said the school "is scrambling" just to get someone to cover the offseason wrestling class.

"We're going to pulse our community and some of the wrestling people who have been here before," Dugard said. "We have a couple of well qualified parents who have assisted K.J. before. Hopefully we can get them to foster this offseason class, and then we're looking to a couple of contacts we have and we're hopeful we can get someone on an interim basis this year."