Marth's WGEM career begins, ends with putting family first

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jun. 15, 2018 12:25 am Updated: Jun. 15, 2018 12:52 am

Everything began the way most Friday nights did back then. It ended a way no other has -- before or since.

That's what makes it classic.

Ben Marth was hired in the summer of 2002 to be the lead play-by-play voice for WGEM radio and the weekend television sports anchor. His first game on the air was the Quincy Notre Dame football team's season opener at Macomb.

As the color analyst for QND football broadcasts at the time, I was lucky to be his sidekick.

We packed our gear into the WGEM radio van, stopped for gas on the way out of town and made the 75-minute trip chatting about sports the entire time. With shared rooting interests such as the St. Louis Cardinals and Mizzou athletics, we were never at a loss for a topic.

In that sense, there was nothing unusual about this trip.

However, Marth had to make sure I understood one situation. His wife, Kristy, was nine months pregnant with their first child and could go into labor at any moment. If he got that call, he was dropping everything and heading home.

Marth positioned his cellphone strategically throughout the trip so he was always ready to answer it. During the pregame show and throughout the broadcast, it never rang.

After Macomb won 22-9 and postgame interviews were complete, the call came. Kristi was going into labor. Hurry home.

That's when the night turned epic.

Marth sprinted toward the van, parked near the Macomb locker room beyond the north end of the field. He yelled, "Let's go."

I took off, too, sprinting as fast as this lumbering body could. We all know it couldn't have been too fast, but it was the fastest I've sprinted since playing flag football in college intramurals. Marth jokes today that I finally caught my breath about the time we reached Loraine.

We chuckle each time we relive that trip.

I will treasure that memory and so many others spawned from a partnership and friendship that existed on the air and off camera, too.

The on-air relationship ends Friday.

The off-air camaraderie won't.

In that sense, I'm fortunate. The viewers and listeners are the ones losing out.

Marth has resigned as the WGEM sports director after 16 years covering sports in this market to devote more time to his family. He is staying in Quincy and will work for a local company. He made his last appearance on WGEM SportsCenter on Thursday morning. He'll anchor his final sportscast Friday night.

The word "family" often is the blanket reason a coach or administrator gives when they've tired of a job and want to frame their departure in the best light.

Marth isn't framing anything. He's doing this for his family.

The baby boy born that August night after his dad made it home from Macomb and reached Blessing Hospital with time to spare turns 16 later this year. Jack Marth is now a sophomore at QND and a multi-sport athlete. It's time for Ben to be a dad. He deserves to wear a button with his son's picture or buy a jersey with his son's number. He deserves to cheer his son from the stands instead rushing off to grab highlights of the sons of other fathers.

He'll do the same for his younger children -- Lilly and Kaden. Both share their father's love of sports and are creating their own memories already. Lilly played on the Quincy Crusaders basketball team that finished third in the IESA state tournament last winter, and Ben gets to help coach Kaden's Quincy Dirtbags baseball team.

Ben no longer will be running up and down the sidelines with a camera on his shoulder or prepping to do play-by-play for a television broadcast of a QHS-QND basketball matchup. He will be there but with a different and more important task at hand.

He gets to go home to celebrate with or console his kids and share the moment with the ones he loves the most.

In a way, that hasn't changed.

His first game was broadcast with only his son in mind.