Railers: Game #500

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[January 07, 2017]  On Tuesday, January 6, 2009, the Railers beat Springfield 34-32. For most, it was just another game in the 2008-09 season, a campaign that would see Lincoln finish 29-5. There was nothing particularly noteworthy that occurred on the court, but I remember the night. Not for the game, but the circumstances around it.

In early 2008, my dad, Don Benjamin, was diagnosed with colon cancer. A surgery saw the removal of a tumor but did not change the ultimate outcome. After spending as much time as possible with him at his home in Bradley, including both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I assumed there would be time to broadcast the Railer games from Collinsville. After the second game, I called to check on him and was simply told ďitís not good. Not good at all.Ē There was something about the tone of that description that told me I didnít need to be in Collinsville, I needed to be with him. So, just 30 minutes after checking in to our hotel, my family and I checked right back out and headed back to Lincoln. Once we arrived home, I packed a quick overnight bag and got on the road to Bradley.

Around 11 oíclock that same night, I got there just as the hospice volunteers were leaving, passing on their wishes for comfort at what was surely to come over the next few days. At 7:30 the next morning, my dad passed away at 76. I was glad I had made the decision to get to his bedside.

Of course, basketball in Collinsville continued and my broadcast partner at the time, Tom Larey, and Mitch Smith graciously stepped in to cover the final day of the tournament. Many of you reading this may remember that tournament as the one where official Gary Gustafson collapsed on the court with a heart attack during the Railer game. Thankfully, he survived and was roaming Vergil Fletcher Gymnasium last week in Collinsville.

So, where am I going with all of this? The above-mentioned game against Springfield was my first game back after being away for my dadís funeral. At the beginning of the game, during the national anthem, there was a noticeable lump in my throat. Dad served in the Korean War and, at that moment, it hit me. This would be the first Railer game I would do without my dad. We would talk a couple of times a week, even as far back as my college days. During basketball season, he would always ask how the team was doing and no matter how the Railers were doing, he would spout off with his simplistic Ďwell, there always has to be a winner and a loser.í To the point; thatís what you got from my dad.

After games, Coach Neil Alexander will come up to the broadcast position for his post-game interview on the radio. When heís done, he will usually head back down the stairs, across the gym, and over to his family in the stands. On this night, though, when he finished, he was standing to the side of our table, Diet Coke in hand, just waiting. As I closed out the Coachís portion by sending it for a commercial break, he walked up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder, and simply asked, ďyou doing OK?Ē A small meaningful act from someone who did not have to do that but still remembered to this day.

This leads me here. Last night, on the same January 6 against the same Springfield team, I was privileged to broadcast my 500th game for the Lincoln Railers. A number I certainly never thought I would ever consider, let alone see. But, during the summer as I was getting my stats and reports ready for this upcoming season, I wondered how many games I had done in my first 15 years. It was then I noticed I was rather close to 500. I know it is my odd way of thinking, but it seems like the date and the opponent were meant to be. I certainly was thinking about him a lot last night, more than I normally do.

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It is definitely no record, no all-time high. I understand that. I will tell everyone who will listen that I or whoever my partner is at the time, we are not the show. The kids that get the honor of wearing that Lincoln uniform are the show. Iím sure there are others that have done more Railer games, but on 500 opportunities, I have had the best seat in the house, trying to bring the excitement and thrill of Railer basketball to the Railer Nation family. There is nothing, I truly mean nothing, that can express my gratitude that is wrapped up in these two words. 

Thank you.
 I certainly know without others, this would not be possible. First and foremost, my wife and daughter. I am very fortunate to have a family that allows me to do the games, knowing how important it is for me to fulfill my responsibilities. In fact, only eight days after my dadís funeral, my wife suffered a seizure, which was blamed on a brain tumor. The following week, the tumor was removed, causing me to miss a couple games during that yearís Glenwood Winter Classic. The Friday night she came home from the hospital was the last game I have missed. Our vacations and other family events are planned around the Railer schedule. These days, you will find my wife a few rows behind the Railer bench at Roy S. Anderson Gymnasium while our daughter is part of the best pep band in the state. Trust me, Iíve heard a lot of them.
 WLCN 96.3 FM Station manager Jim Ash at the station gave me the chance to do the games all the way back in the 2001-2002 season when the new station had opened. After splitting some of the play-by-play and color commentary duties during the Thanksgiving tournament, Jim asked if I wanted to handle the games from there are on and, luckily, I said yes.
 Iíve been rather fortunate to do games with a number of folks, most have taught me something about the game. Iím hopeful not to forget anyone but the list includes Jim Ash, Greg Taylor, Darrin Worth, Joel Vinson, Justin Tierney, Tom Larey, Mitch Smith, Scott Kirby, and Josh Komnick. Of that grouping, Iíve done more games with Tom, who was my broadcast partner for almost ten of those seasons. Of course, Mitch will tell you that my right shoulder may never be the same after he slammed down on it in excitement one night. That night, in a battle for the conference title, his son Nathaniel had made a go ahead driving layup against Southeast in the final seconds of the game. Mitchís exuberance resulted in a hammering blow to my right shoulder. Unfortunately, his and the rest of Railer Nationís excitement, was squashed when Lawrence Thomas hit an almost impossible shot at the buzzer from near the top of the key surrounding by three Railers.

 I would be doing a disservice if I also didnít mention Mike Fak and Lincoln Daily News. Mike contacted me a number of years ago and asked if, along with my broadcasting duties, I would want to write up an article about the game for Lincolnís online newspaper. Mike is no longer with us, but Jim Youngquist and the crew at LDN have allowed me to continue throwing my thoughts out there for you to read.
 There are so many stories, so many players that it has been my joy to bring to you over these 15 and half years. If I were to start telling more stories, I may never finish. Hopefully, there are another 500 games in me, but that also covers a lot more birthdays. I certainly hope you have enjoyed the first 500 as much as I have. Again, thanks!
 [Jeff Benjamin]

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