VOICE OF THE CHIEFS
BY JIM MISUNAS
His love of baseball started with a simple game of catch between father and son.
Five decades later, Doug Bender appreciates all his friends and associates who have helped him enjoy his radio broadcasting career. Bender has aired Great Bend Chiefs baseball games on KZRS (107.9-FM) since 2014. He’s also aired Barton Community College baseball and Ellinwood sports in recent years.
Bender’s favorite childhood memory is playing catch with his father Oscar.
“My dad (Oscar) and I started playing catch when I was 2-years-old,” Bender said. “Baseball is in our blood. My father told me stories of Russell’s ‘Bender Hill’ Baseball League.”
The tiny towns of Galatia, McCracken, Beaver and Radium all sponsored town baseball teams from the 1930s through the 1960s. Hall of Famer Satchell Paige played at Russell’s former field, named after Bender’s family members.
When Bender made his first all-star game, his name was mistakenly listed as ‘Lil Oscar Bender, Junior.’
Bender believes constant “wiffle-ball,” games on Dr. Saylor’s lot as a youngster was the key to his future baseball success.
“I know if you can hit a curving whiffle-ball, you can hit a baseball curveball,” he said.
Bender combines the knowledge as a player, coach and umpire with a unique perspective of baseball. Bender has never heard of anyone who broadcasts baseball who has umpired for 40 years.
He was 13 years old when Great Bend Recreation employees Carl Soden, David Lake and Sharon Engle invited him to umpire a youth league in 1974. Over the years, Bender worked high school, college and all levels of summer baseball.
“I umpired Jayhawk League games at Hutchinson when the Broncs featured players like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro,” Bender said. “That was quite an experience as an umpire.”
Bender’s lengthy umpiring career shifted abruptly in 2005 when he survived a health scare that started with a blister and subsequent swollen foot when he was coaching baseball in Dodge City.
“It went from bad to worse,” he said. “I discovered I had a foot infection and I was diabetic. Six days later, I was life-watched to Wesley Medical Center in Wichita. I was told they had to amputate my left leg or I would die.”
Bender said his only clue was occasional eye issues.
“But I was an umpire,” he said proudly.
Bender got started in radio in 1974 when Bob Loopman from Barton Community College invited him to help with a pageant.
“Bob liked my voice,” Bender said. “I made my radio debut with the Little Miss Sunshine Pageant at Barton.”
Bender’s “official,” sports broadcasting debut at Langdon, Kansas barely got on the air. A phone line were damaged by movable bleachers, forcing Bender to rewire the phone line just in time to air the basketball games.
“I learned that day to arrive an hour early for an event,” he said. “You never know what you will have to do to get on the air.”
Bender’s collection of favorite baseball players features Minnesota Twins Rod Carew and Harmon Killebrew, Pittsburgh Pirates Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente and Cincinnati Red Johnny Bench.
“They all had fun playing the game of baseball,” Bender said. “They were disciples of the game.”
Bender’s favorite announcers are Vin Scully. Denny Matthews and Howard Cosell.
“They were my eyes when I listened to a game,” he said. “They related to a listener. They’d talk about the whole picture around them.”
Bender played baseball with the Great Bend Panthers when they qualified for two state baseball tournaments. The Great Bend Legion Chiefs compiled a 36-16 record in 1980. First baseman Bender earned Cen-Ark League All-Star honors.
Bender joined 2B David Hickerson, P Colin Hammeke, P-OF Curtis Hammeke, 3B Paul Burhenn, OF Troy Guesnier, OF Brad Collicott and C Greg Colicott at Barton Community College. The Cougars won the Jayhawk Western Division in 1980 before losing to Johnson County in a three-game postseason series.
Bender’s career highlight was airing Barton Community College’s 2018 NJCAA Baseball Championship appearance from Grand Junction, Colo.
“It’s a privilege to air a national championship event,” Bender said. “The atmosphere at Grand Junction is amazing. It was special to get treated so well at a national championship event.”
Bender’s folksy radio style goes well beyond balls and strikes. He typically invites a parent or former coach to assist with the broadcast. Bender’s style remains the same, but the color commentator insures the broadcast is “colorful.”
“I enjoy baseball because it’s a thinking man’s sport,” he said. “There is always a game inside-the-game. There are many possibilities with every pitch.”
Bender is a true warrior. He accepts help transporting heavy equipment before and after games. He appreciates the help of everyone who’s helped him along the way.
“When I’m a broadcasting, I want to be the listener’s eyes,” he said. “What I’ve found airing high school baseball is people enjoy listening to their family members play baseball. When you get to know the players and their families, you can add a personal touch. All the stories refer to the baseball game that’s being played.”
BENDER’S COACHING CAREER
FOOTBALL—Dodge City HS, Harrison Junior High
BASEBALL—Dodge City HS, Dodge City Desperados owner, Ellinwood HS, Great Bend Braves, Guymon, Okla., Hap Dumont, Oklahoma Panhandle State, Salina Blue Hays, Salina Eagles, Walter Johnson Collegiate
GREAT BEND RECREATION—Baseball, basketball, football, softball, T-ball