Todd Benatar knew how to find fun while growing up in Danville, a town of about 26,000 in Northern California. It usually involved a basketball, a hoop and five friends.
But when pickup games weren’t plentiful, he found other ways to amuse himself.
It wasn’t easy. Life in some towns can be as exciting as watching concrete dry.
But Benatar managed. By age 8, he was into rock ‘n’ roll. His favorite singer was a short, feisty rocker named Pat Benatar, who just happened to be his aunt.
“My favorite song was ‘Hit Me With Your Best Shot,’ ” he said.
Benatar was a pretty good shot when it came to tossing water balloons, another pastime in Danville. He and his pals would slip into a downtown building--"We don’t have many tall ones,” Benatar said--and start launching.
“Usually people,” he said. “We still do it, just for fun. You know, when we’re just hanging out and screwing around. A little mischief. It’s a year-round thing for us.”
Well, the streets of Danville will be safe at 3 p.m. Saturday. That’s when Benatar and his teammates at Danville San Ramon Valley High School will play Tustin in the State Division II basketball championship game in the Oakland Coliseum Arena.
Benatar, a 5-foot-9 guard, has sparked the Wolves to 24 consecutive victories and the school’s first appearance in the boys’ State finals. The San Ramon girls won the State Division II title last season.
Benatar, a junior, is averaging 10.4 points and is the team’s leading three-point shooter. He made 33 in the regular season.
He has shot particularly well in the playoffs, including three three-pointers and 23 points in Valley’s 65-51 victory over Sacramento Jesuit in the Northern California Regional final.
Benatar left the Oakland Coliseum Arena that night with a championship medal. Two days earlier, he had left the UC Davis gym on a stretcher.
With 3 minutes 58 seconds left in a semifinal victory over Fremont Sunnyvale, Benatar collided with an opposing player while battling for a loose ball. Benatar hit his forehead against the player’s hip and crumpled to the floor.
“I don’t remember exactly how it happened,” he said. “My neck snapped back, then I hit my head on the floor. I was knocked out cold for about 15 seconds.”
Benatar’s face felt numb when he woke up. He knew where he was. He knew the score of the game. He thought he was fine, but the medical personnel didn’t take any chances.
“I was down for about 25 to 30 minutes,” he said. “It was a pretty scary feeling because I lost all feeling in my face. So they (medics) immobilized my neck and took me out.”
X-rays showed no damage to his head or neck, and Benatar was released from the hospital. He said he has felt fine since.
“I’m very, very lucky,” he said.
When it comes to injuries, Benatar has had some bad luck, too. He earned a starting spot on the varsity as a sophomore but injured his right knee at midseason and sat out the rest of the year.
“My knee just gave out on me in a tournament game,” he said. “The doctors found nothing wrong. Then they went in and did arthroscopic surgery and flushed the knee out. It’s still a little sore and stiff, but at least I can play on it.”
Benatar has lived all his life in Danville, located about 30 miles east of Oakland. His father, Bob, teaches at California High, and his mother, Linda, is a kindergarten teacher. His brother, Danny, played basketball at Ganesha High several years ago, and his sister, Jodi, is a student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
“I love it in Danville,” Todd Benatar said. “I think it’s a great place.”
It’s even better when you’re playing on a winning basketball team. The Wolves (29-2) won the East Bay Athletic League and North Coast Section title. Early in the season, they upset Alameda St. Joseph Notre Dame, the top-ranked Division I team at the time.
“There’s a lot of excitement around school right now,” Benatar said. “It seems like everyone is more excited this year with the boys’ team than last year with the girls’. I don’t know why. It seems like it’s a bigger deal.”
Benatar has become a celebrity of sorts. He’s a permanent fixture on the local sports page. Just about everyone around town has heard of him.
But with all the notoriety comes the question:
Hey, Todd, what about your famous aunt?
“Actually, she was my aunt,” he said. “She was married to my dad’s brother, but they got divorced a couple of years ago.”
Do you like her music?
“Sure. We have all of her albums.”
What about the lifestyle of a rock ‘n’ roll star?
“She has mellowed out a lot. Especially now. She has had a couple of kids.”