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Wichita State's independent, student-run news source

The Sunflower

‘I’m a blessed man’: Former sports broadcaster recalls passion for life through work

Monique Bever
Gary Bender gives a speech at the Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame induction on Feb. 6 in Wiedemann Hall. Bender graduated from Wichita State in 1962 with a degree in Speech. Bender came to prominence for his work in CBS sportscasting.

A former sports broadcaster, Gary Bender began his career at 12 years old on his family’s farm, which, according to him, was on the Kansas-Colorado border about 40 miles away from any town. 

“I kind of launched my career on the farm,” Bender said. “I started on those long hot days on a tractor early in the morning till sundown, and I started making the ballgames. I acted like I was in Yankee Stadium, the Orange Bowl (and) the Los Angeles Coliseum.” 

Bender, one of the Fairmount College Hall of Fame inductees at Wichita State, was a successful and prominent member of the sports broadcasting world, from being the voice of the Green Bay Packers to calling the 1975 Cowboys vs Vikings “Hail Mary” football game.

As a child on the farm, he said he played pretend by creating game scenarios, singing the national anthem and doing all the commercials as a way to get by.  

“I started a career not knowing that at the time, but just trying to survive,” Bender said. 

His father had imposed farm life on Bender when he transitioned from being a football coach at Dodge City Community College to settling down on a farm. 

“I was into sports, and all of a sudden, I was in the middle of nowhere,” Bender said. “And I would have run away from home, but … there were no trees, and the land was so flat. They could see me running for three days, so it wouldn’t make any difference.” 

Shortly after, a drought hit Bender’s family’s farm, and his father decided to get back into coaching. 

Raised around a sports culture, Bender became an All-State running back, earning himself a scholarship to play for the then-University of Wichita, now known as Wichita State University. 

Bender played football for a couple of years at Wichita State, but two injuries cut his time short on the field. He said he was shocked because, just like all of his teammates, he thought he was going to play for the National Football League. 

Despite WSU not having a journalism school at the time, Bender said he tried to do everything in his power to become a broadcaster and fulfill his childhood dream. 

He graduated from Wichita State in 1962 with a degree in speech and received his master’s at Kansas State University in radio and television. 

It was not easy for the young broadcaster to find a job. Back then, there were three networks: CBS, ABC and NBC. 

“I’d gotten married,” Bender said. “We were living in a dusty basement of an aunt, waiting to find some job.”

In a moment of hope, he drove from Kansas City to Wichita to convince Fred Conger, the owner of a small radio station in Hutchinson, Kansas, to give him a job. 

After finishing his pitch, Bender finally landed a job calling games at Hutchinson Community College. 

“Even in those days in Hutchinson, I wasn’t making any money, and it was a little 1000-watt radio station — the signal didn’t even go outside the city limits,” Bender said. “But I was enjoying every moment of it. I never was dissatisfied, (and) I was never saying, ‘Oh, I made a mistake.’”

Bender took a few more jobs, climbing up the ladder until he landed in Madison, Wisconsin. By the 1970s, he worked as the voice of the Green Bay Packers on the radio and did a six and 10 show on television in the evenings.  

One day, he received a strange call saying he “might be network quality” and to send over a highlight tape. 

“I fired a tape off to him, my resume and about three days later he calls and says, ‘Hey, CBS has hired you,’” Bender said. 

From that moment, his career took off, working alongside greats like John Madden, Johnny Unitas, Sonny Jurgen and Hank Stram. 

“They carried me. I always had the philosophy that I would hang on to their coattails, and if they did a good job, I was considered good too,” Bender said. “I became a person who was very good at coaching others, bringing their career along and didn’t feel threatened by any of it.” 

Bender credits his commitment to getting him to call some of the most legendary games in sporting history. He said it was never about the money for him but rather doing something he loved and pursuing his dream. 

“You got to be so committed, there’s nothing else you want to do,” Bender said. “You could probably make more money selling shoes.” 

Bender now sits with three Emmys in his back pocket. He was inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Kansas Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 2012.

“I loved it; I love doing it, and I never really complained that much,” Bender said. “And (I) ended up eventually able to have some success, and I’ll say this: I’m a blessed man.” 

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About the Contributors
Melanie Rivera-Cortez
Melanie Rivera-Cortez, Sports Editor
Monique Bever
Monique Bever, Reporter
Monique Bever is a first-year reporter and photographer. She is a freshman majoring in philosophy. Monique has lived in Wichita for most of her life. She loves film, fashion, and her cat.

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