In August of 1968, Cy McBride, then executive sports editor of The Indianapolis Star, handed an assignment to an aspiring sportswriter. He wanted a feature on a table tennis champion from Greenwood. Her name was Mary McIlwaine.
The aspiring scribe—me, 19 years old at the time—took on the assignment with relish. I did the interviews and reporting and labored mightily over the crafting of 500 words. I turned it in to McBride and held my breath as he pulled out his black pencil. He made some edits and suggested some rewrites of portions. But then he said, “Overall, it’s pretty good, kid. We’ll run it in tomorrow’s paper.”
The next day, there was my byline, in 8-point boldface type. I had my first sniff of an intoxicant that would become my life’s blood.
So began a 45-year career writing about sports in Indianapolis print publications: 33 at The Star, and another 12 here at the Indianapolis Business Journal, with a sprinkling of Indianapolis Monthly assignments along the way.
With this column, that chapter of my life closes for now.
A new position with Pacers Sports & Entertainment will preclude me from offering my weekly observations about the local sports scene in IBJ. My days as an ink-stained wretch are over.
When I left The Star 12 years ago, IBJ owner Mickey Maurer, Publisher Chris Katterjohn, Editor Tom Harton and Managing Editor John Ketzenberger allowed me to have this coveted space in IBJ. That continued as Greg Morris, Greg Andrews and Cory Schouten moved into management roles.
To all, I cannot express the depth of my gratitude, especially to Harton, who has edited nearly all those columns (saving me from myself on numerous occasions) while sharing our mutual misery about Indiana University football.
I’ve been exceedingly proud of my association with IBJ. This publication continues to offer incisive, in-depth, informative and enlightening content led by a group of editors and reporters who are, simply, damn good at what they do.
And to you, the readers of IBJ, I cannot thank you enough. Rarely a day goes by when I don’t hear from one of you via email or on the street, voicing your appreciation (and, yes, occasionally your disdain) for something I’ve written.
I’ve been blessed to have my sports journalism career coincide with an era when my once sleepy little Naptown blossomed into a sports juggernaut. Along the way, I covered the first Indiana Pacers games at both Market Square Arena and Conseco Fieldhouse, the first matches at the Indianapolis Tennis Center, and the first big events at the Natatorium and the Carroll Track & Field Stadium.
I saw the roof inflated on the Hoosier Dome and the Indianapolis Colts come and evolve into a Super Bowl champion. I covered the halcyon days of the Pacers and Reggie Miller. I saw the Indianapolis Motor Speedway go from one race to three.
I covered the arrival of the NCAA and Final Fours, the Big Ten basketball tournaments and the Big Ten football championship, and all of the significant national and international events.
And I was both involved in and helped chronicle the winning bid and the stunningly successful presentation of Super Bowl XLVI.
Most of all, I developed great relationships with the visionaries and practitioners who made it all happen. What a story, and how fortunate I was to be able to tell some of it along the way.
As with Cy McBride back in 1968, this has been about being given a chance. So I want to thank Dale Neuburger for my first post-newspaper career opportunity at the Indiana Sports Corp.; Bob Bedell for allowing me to take my skills to the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association; and, finally, my friend Jon LeCrone for convincing me that a turn in intercollegiate athletics at the Horizon League would be fun and worthwhile. It was.
Now the Pacers, a franchise I covered as a beat reporter from 1974-1979 and later as a columnist, have asked me to join their team. I get to work with people I so respect: Jim Morris, Rick Fuson, Kelly Krauskopf and Larry Bird, among others, as well as a fella that I respect and love—my brother, David.
What a way to take it into the fourth quarter, and maybe even overtime.
Thanks, finally, to my wife, Sherry, and my daughters Allison and Ashley for their unwavering faith in me.
We’ll see you around, I hope at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, cheering on the Pacers and Fever. God bless you all.•
Benner is a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. He can be reached at [email protected]