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Vol. 58, No. 2 February 2021 .pdf version
Benner: One hell of a ride
By MIKE LOPRESTI
There he'd be, a little boy sitting outside his farmhouse south of Indianapolis, on a bluff overlooking Indiana 37, as the traffic sped past headed for Indiana University. He wanted to go that direction one day.
Reality smacked him years later. There was not enough money for IU, so he attended IU Extension in downtown Indianapolis known in its grown-up years as IUPUI. He needed a job, and his father Charlie was a key cog in the Indianapolis Star's printing department. Charlie heard of an opening in the sports department to answer phones, give scores, settle bets, look up records. Bill grabbed it. You know what they say about the rest it's history.
"A classic example of where obstacle meets opportunity," Benner said. By the following summer, he actually got his first story assignment; the Star needed something on a table tennis champion and most of the staff was away on vacation. He wrote the story, and the next thing he knew, he was columnist.
OK, maybe not the next thing. Ahead was a career striking for its versatility and breadth. He covered high schools, became the beat writer for the Pacers. Funny thing about that. His childhood hero was Bob Leonard, for leading the Hoosiers to the 1953 national championship. Now, suddenly, he was covering Bob Leonard, Pacers coach. He took general assignments, wrote about anything, everything. He worked the desk slot, including laying out pages on Indianapolis 500 race days, when he'd go to the track, watch 50 laps or so, jump on the back of a photographer's motorcycle returning to the office and await the gazillion words of copy to come.
And then he became columnist. All that, just as Indianapolis was undergoing a sports renaissance. Its first Final Four in 1980, the building of the Hoosier Dome and attraction of the Colts, the Pan-Am Games, more Final Fours, the NCAA moving to Indianapolis ... all on Benner's watch.
"Probably more than anybody at the Star, I was the chronicler of the formation and the success of the Indianapolis sports initiative," he said. "I never pretended to be an absolute non-homer, because I loved what was happening with my hometown. For me to be able to report and write about that ... was a pure, pure joy. I thought I would do it forever."
Except he didn't. After 30-plus journalism years in 2001, he headed for the other side of the fence, with a second career that would be just as successful, and varied. Vice president of communications for Indiana Sports Corp, communications director for the Convention and Visitors Association, associate commissioner for the Horizon League, an executive with many hats for the Pacers, co-chair of the media relations committee for the 2012 Super Bowl.
His skills in one world translated to the other, as Indianapolis kept buzzing. "I was so blessed to be in the middle of all that from both sides," he said.
So the years went by in Indianapolis, and Bill Benner ably supported by wife Sherry was almost always there. He even kept his column skills active with the Indianapolis Business Journal. He was always headed somewhere, like that traffic that used to speed by his farmhouse.
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