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The Happy Man

When you hear that golden voice, a voice made for radio, you know it's time for a game. When you're in his presence, it's hard not to recognize that you're in the presence of a local living legend.

Jack Benedict

Jack Benedict on the air from Memorial Field House

For the past thirty-two years, beloved broadcaster Jack Benedict has come to personify IUP athletics throughout the region. He has narrated hundreds of games, hundreds of special moments in the program's storied history. Anyone fortunate enough to be an IUP fan has been touched by that voice on countless occasions.

Benedict, fifty-eight, has a passion for his vocation and a passion for IUP sports, a zeal that's infectious to anyone who listens. He's good at what he does, he loves what he does, and he wants the same affection to rub off on the listening audience.

"I don't consider it a job," said Benedict, whose chief responsibility is play-by-play announcing for both IUP basketball teams as well as the football team. "I can't complain, and why would I? I get a chance to see all of the games, meet great people, and travel to a lot of neat places.

"It has been wonderful, and it's nice to hear the good things people say about me. I'm glad when they enjoy it. Maybe I've added a bit to their lives. I hope so."

A Witness to History 

It's not just the fans he has touched. The players, the coaches—they've all had the pleasure of rubbing elbows with Benedict, and the unanimous verdict is that he's a real treat.

"Jack is the best radio guy that I have ever worked with," said IUP men's basketball coach Gary Edwards. "He's a real pleasure to work with."

Through the years, the players have come and gone, as have the coaches, the students, and many of the other people affiliated with IUP in some way. But amidst all the changing faces, Benedict has been a constant. He's the one who has seen it all.

"He's a real fan, and he knows all the history," said Randy Jesick, an IUP journalism professor who worked with Benedict during the 1970s as the school's de facto sports information director. "He knows the players, the coaches, the big games, the special moments."
                                                           
Benedict's charm shines brightest when he takes on the role of storyteller. Thirty-two years is plenty of time to build a story collection, and, thanks to a wonderful memory and attention to detail, Benedict has thousands of anecdotes. Take, for example, the NCAA Division II football playoff game between IUP and Grand Valley State in 1989. IUP won that day—its first playoff victory ever—but that's only half the story.

Benedict and five others were flying to Michigan in a twin-engine plane when an engine went out. Thankfully, it came back to life. Then the other engine died. Having had his life flash before his eyes, Benedict made it into the booth in the nick of time and called the game. Just after takeoff on the way home, the pilot informed his passengers that they were going back to land. "I kept thinking if we ever get down, we're driving home," Benedict said. They did.

The seeds of a brilliant career were sown in the late 1950s. As he finished up his education at Ramsay [now Mount Pleasant] High School, Benedict wasn't sure which path in life he wanted to choose. He knew what he didn't want to do. He was turned off by the idea of doing the same monotonous task forty hours a week for the next forty years.

"I knew when I was pretty young that I wanted to do something different," Benedict said. "I didn't want the regular nine-to-five job that most people were looking for. I wanted to do something fun, something that I would really enjoy."

Like many other boys in his generation—or any other generation, for that matter—Benedict grew up a sports fanatic. He played several sports, collected baseball cards—the whole nine yards. His idol was Jackie Robinson, the first modern-day black major leaguer, and that admiration evolved into a love for the Dodgers and, fittingly enough, for Vin Scully, the team's renowned broadcaster.

Shortly after high school graduation, a friend of Benedict saw a newspaper advertisement for a Pittsburgh broadcasting school. Benedict decided this might be an opportunity worth exploring. Just one year later, he graduated from the George Heid School of Radio and Television. It wasn't long before Benedict, at the age of nineteen, got a job with WCVI in Connellsville. Only three months passed before, less than two years out of high school, he was hired to work at the radio station.

Benedict spent seven years at WCVI before moving to Indiana in 1969 to work at WDAD, where he would begin capturing the hearts of any and every IUP fan who tuned in. In the spring of 1989, Benedict took a job with the same capacities at WCCS in Homer City, where he's been employed ever since.
                             
While his wonderful voice and love of his job are indispensable assets, they alone aren't what make Benedict so successful at what he does. He has become the solid broadcaster he is today because he has worked at it. Hard.

Although it's a safe bet that his job is as secure as any around, Benedict takes nothing for granted. He's always looking to improve, always rigorously preparing for the next broadcast. He often arrives at games before the players and coaches. Look at his papers and his scorebook, and you'll find an assortment of stats and information, all waiting to be the next delightful morsel delivered on the air.

"Jack is always thorough in his preparation," said Marvin "Goose" Goslin, a 1973 graduate of IUP who covers the sports beat for KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh and works as a color man with Benedict on IUP football broadcasts. "There's such a high level of professionalism in his work. It's honestly important to him to do the best job that he can do. There's that pride in his work. He has really helped to set a standard in this business."

It's obvious that professionalism and preparation, coupled with a passion for his subject matter, drive Benedict. He has rarely missed a day of work or a game he was supposed to cover. A collapsed lung in the 1980s sidelined him for a couple of months, but because it was in the spring, he didn't miss too many games.

In 1997, before the homecoming football game, a truck hit Benedict's car while he was driving in Indiana. After a quick examination at the hospital, he wasn't worried about rest or recovery. "I can make it to the game," he thought at the time. "I'm not going to sit around in agony tonight." His wife told him he was crazy, but Benedict was at Miller Stadium that evening and broadcast the game. "That's dedication or stupidity," he said with a laugh. "One or the other."

While it's true that Benedict works for a small-town radio station, the size of his market doesn't seem to do him justice. Ask his peers, and they'll tell you that he's as good as—if not better than—broadcasters in even the biggest markets.

"It's obvious that Jack could have moved on if he had chosen to pursue that route," said Goslin, who first worked with Benedict in the 1970s while still a student. "Jack became very comfortable there in Indiana. He likes the people he works with, and he's obviously very well liked by them. It's a good fit."

Goslin is just one of several people who have come under Benedict's tutelage before moving on to the so-called "bigger and better" gigs. "I see a lot of people in different places—people that have come through the system and gone elsewhere," Benedict said. "But I'm not envious. I like where I'm at."

"I believe that if Jack had wanted to be in a bigger market, he could have chosen his market," Edwards said. "I admire him because he's found his niche. He loves this area. There may be guys that have a little bit more publicity because they are in a bigger market, but I don't think there's anyone better. He's happy. And you don't mess with happy."

Benedict hasn't messed with happy for thirty-two years, and he shows no signs of slowing down. "I've said all along that I'd like to get fifty years in," he said. "It's kind of a set figure. It would be nice to get to fifty."

When it's time to take off the headset for the last time, Benedict admits it'll be tough to let go. For him, there have been so many wonderful people and games. A lifetime's worth of memories and special moments. "It's something that you truly have to love, and I do," he said. "I've been very fortunate, and I wouldn't really change a thing."

Nor would his listeners.

David Hubbard is from Ellenboro, N.C., and will be a senior majoring in Journalism this fall.  Enrolled in IUP’s Robert E. Cook Honors College, he hopes to get a job as a sportswriter at a newspaper in North Carolina upon graduation next May. He also hopes to freelance on a part-time basis.