By Ken McDowell
Members of the media who cover local sports for a living become part of the lives of every student/athlete they have the honor of working with.
They feel their joys of victory, their heartbreaks of defeat and suffer with them through tragedies that affect their lives.
They don’t just watch from the sidelines but join their subjects down in the trenches which allows them to paint a true picture to readers and listeners through the words, the emotions and the actions of each and every student/athlete.
They travel with them, they dine with them and by doing all of these things, they build lifelong friendships.
Ben Blecha represents all those things and more. On Tues., Feb. 4, Blecha broadcast his 1,000th sporting event of Northeastern Junior College (NJC) athletics exactly 11 years to the date of his very first radio coverage of the Plainsmen and Plainswomen.
After graduating from Colorado State University-Pueblo in 2004, Ben started his professional broadcasting career in Sterling in 2004 at KSTC/KNNG Radio where he began ground-breaking coverage of high school sports in Northeast Colorado.
Since then, Blecha has built a dynamic listenership with his unique style and passion of calling games. He has introduced the sport of volleyball and soccer to the airwaves as well as other sports that had rarely been covered on radio in this region.
He has traveled thousands of miles each season to cover local high school sports, starting in August and not stopping until the final whistle has blown or the last out recorded at the end of May.
Ben also works tirelessly with his local radio talk show and remains in contact touch with all coaches and student/athletes.
Through those first several years in Sterling it became evident to Blecha that NJC athletics are a vital part of Northeast Colorado, and those student/athletes deserved the same recognition for their athletic achievements on the court, playing field and baseball/softball diamonds.
“During the hosting of our weekly show highlighting NJC Athletics on Locker Talk, it was clear that the lack of a broadcast media covering them in a play-by-play arena was bothersome to some of the coaches,” Blecha recalled.
“They felt it could be a really nice tool to allow parents to follow along with their kids as they competed at NJC.
“I was familiar with Darrel Parker as the head coach of the NJC women's basketball program since I'd covered him when he coached at Sterling High School.
“But outside of that, it was casual relationships with (former NJC Volleyball Coach and current Athletic Director) Marci Henry, (former NJC Baseball Coach) Bryan Shepherd and (current NJC Head Men’s Basketball Coach) Eddie Trenkle.
“I admired their work ‘from afar,’ but hadn't really had the chance to get to know them until I took over during the 2008-09 school year.”
Ben’s first broadcast of NJC athletics on that fourth day of February in 2009 consisted of a very long trip to Lamar Community College to cover the NJC Plainsmen and Plainswomen basketball teams.
“I wasn't the full time voice at the time,” he said. “But the guy who was called me the morning of NJC's trip to Lamar and told me his wife was in premature labor.
“He couldn't exactly leave her, nor should he have been asked to. So as his supervisor, I decided I'd go cover the game. I don't remember much of the games. The women's game was a relatively decisive win and the men's game was close but also ended as a win.
“I remember the long car ride across the prairie of Colorado, and the sweltering broadcast position near the ceiling of the Lamar Wellness Center.
“Once basketball season came to a close, the full time voice of the team had to resign his position to be there for his wife and child. So I took over full-time during the baseball season of 2009.”
And so it began.
Ben became not only the voice of NJC athletics, but a fixture in the lives of countless student/athletes who have passed through NJC and have gone on to achieve their goals.
Many of those student/athletes have also become a part of Ben’s life, getting to know his three daughters - Stayci, Zaly and Reni - and being a part of their lives as they grow to love the same journey their father has taken.
Blecha has covered numerous Region IX championship teams and has made the long trips to NJCAA National Volleyball, Basketball and Baseball Tournaments NJC has participated in.
In 2013 Ben switched over to KPMX Radio in Sterling where he further grew his dynasty but still remains the voice of NJC Athletics along with still helping his co-worker, Chris Brom, with high school coverage. (The majority of NJC broadcasts are on 94.5 The Ranch).
Blecha has received seven awards from the Colorado Broadcasters Association for play-by-play broadcasting. Five of those have been for his work at Northeastern Junior College.
Three of them have been wins by NJC over Western Nebraska Community College, which he admits “makes it even more special when that long-entrenched rivalry is recognized by my peers who don't have a full grasp of what that rivalry has meant, especially in the 21st Century.”
He has also won two awards for the fundraising with the Pink Out Campaign for the NCCRA.
NJC was a integral part of making the cancer fundraiser a success he first spearheaded the event in 2007 and 2008.
His work with NJC was also one of the reasons Ben was named the 2010 Logan County Chamber of Commerce Business Person of the Year.
As the Voice of NJC Athletics, Ben sees the vital importance of student/athletes in the Sterling community.
“I know there's a lot of misconception that the athletes who aren't from here don't care about Sterling,” he said. “But when that preconceived notion is hurdled, people see they actually do care.
“All the teams have a great mind for community service and find ways to make Sterling home. You even see a good number of them come back here after their education is complete.
“Credit the coaches for ensuring the community involvement is a part of their process of being educated as a student/athlete. But also credit the local athletes who are on these teams and can accurately convey what it means to be a Northeast Coloradan.”
Blecha’s passion for covering NJC athletics is clearly evident in his broadcasts which also give him satisfaction in his job.
“Junior college athletes often times are seen as the kids who weren't good enough to go to a four-year school,” he said, “Or weren't smart enough. Or not well-off enough.
“But it's not so much that, but as another equal avenue to provide more opportunity to continue playing the sports they're passionate about. And for me as a broadcaster, it's been much the same.
“I've had no desire to live in a big town, travel the big trips, and deal with the business of big college athletics. I'm a small town guy. So to have a path to watch high-level athletics, and cover high-level athletics, while still being in my small town is perfect for me.
“Add in the history-rich atmosphere that surrounds the Plainsmen and Plainswomen, and it's the perfect spot for me!”
On the night of his 1,000th NJC broadcast, a special tribute was held for Ben between games with his wife Kylee and daughters Stayci, Zaly and Reni.
Ben’s mother Nancy and stepfather Jim Eberle were also on hand to honor Ben along with his in-laws J.R. and Suzy Marostica.
Henry, along with all of the NJC coaches, made a special video tribute to Blecha. Henry coached the Plainswomen volleyball team from 1999-2009 and in 2014 was inducted into the NJCAA Coaches Hall of Fame.
She knows as a former coach and current administrator the importance of Blecha’s dedication to NJC through the airwaves.
“Ben has definitely been the Voice of Northeastern,” Henry said. “He jumped right in and got to know everybody right away and won all of those awards and his most proud broadcast was when we beat Western Nebraska.”
Henry was the coach when NJC defeated then third-ranked Western Nebraska in five exciting sets on Oct. 28, 2009 in the Bank of Colorado Event Center.
“Ben is the epitome of a true member of Northeastern athletics,” she said. “He has done such a great job allowing us to deliver our athletic programs throughout the country and the world with our international students and we are just thrilled we have had Ben for this long and is still going strong.
“So we are looking forward to another 1,000 broadcasts!”
Both NJC squads won the first two games of Ben’s NJC broadcasting debut so it made both of Tuesday’s NJC wins even more special.
Blecha said it was an honor to call a Plainswomen victory over McCook, Neb. Community College, 73-67, on Tues., Feb. 4. on his 999th broadcast.
In Ben’s milestone 1,000th broadcast, the Plainsmen dominated McCook 99-73.
Dave Huss, head coach of the Plainswomen basketball team and Eddie Trenkle, head mentor of the men’s squad, had high praise for Blecha after he completed his 1,000th broadcast.
All of the Plainsmen games Blecha has called Trenkle has been the head coach, taking the reigns in 2006-07.
Though Blecha’s broadcasts haven’t changed, the coaching staff for the Plainswomen has: Huss took over for Darrell Parker as head coach after the 2012-13 season after serving as assistant coach for several years.
“That’s a lot of games to broadcast,” Huss said. “We are blessed to have Ben. There’s not a lot of colleges in Region IX that have an outstanding voice like we do.
“I told him let’s get a thousand more. He’s our VOP (Voice of the Plainsmen).”
“I know he likes those close games to call and we tried to make it easy for him so he could just sit back and relax,” Trenkle laughed.
“But I can’t say enough about Ben. Just by being with us and being a part of our program he is a Plainsmen. His three daughters are just as much a part of our team as he is.
“I think that is what also makes this area and Northeastern really special because we are all like a family. I treat Ben just like I do everyone else in our program. The players are my kids and Ben is one of my brothers, so it’s been a fun 11 years working with him.
“I keep hearing people say for him to do another 1,000 broadcasts, and I know that is a lot to do. But instead, let’s do 2,000 more and go from there.”