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Teacher and students step up for community

By Bill Althaus

It’s nearly three hours before the Fort Osage Indians take the field, playing host to the Grain Valley Eagles, and Ben Merithew and his KFOI sports team are in the pressbox and on the field, preparing for that night’s broadcast.

Fort Osage High School broadcast journalism and journalistic reporting teacher Ben Merithew, standing, works with the high school crew broadcasting the Fort Osage Indians home game against Grain Valley. Because of the pandemic, viewership for the games is on the rise, jumping from 350 viewers to 1,300 viewers per broadcast.

This is a common sight at the high school, as the KFOI crew has been broadcasting sporting events, producing video news magazines and programs and bringing noteworthy events such as graduation to its community for many years.

But this year is different – very different – and a bit more impactful.

“We have always taken great pride in what we do,” said senior executive news producer Madison Brownlee, “but this year, the year of the pandemic, we realize that we are the eyes and the ears of our community, and the eyes and the ears of all the fans who cannot attend a game because of county restrictions.”

“This is a historic year, and we know that we are recording history, and I am so thankful that we have a teacher like Mr. Merithew to lead us through this journey because he is one of the most inspirational and giving teachers I’ve ever been around.”

And his students aren’t the only ones who realize the impact Merithew has made on campus and in the community. Merithew was recently named the Fort Osage High School Teacher of the Year, in a vote by his peers.

Hanging on the wall behind Merithew’s desk is a banner that shows what type of department Merithew has created as it honors the Indians as one of just 83 schools out of more than 2,000 nationwide for broadcast excellence by the NFHS (National Federation of High Schools) Network.

“Mr. Merithew is very deserving of our 2020 teacher of the year selection,” principal Scott Moore said. “He is extremely passionate and driven to provide our students with a real world experience when it comes to journalism and broadcasting events. He is always looking for ways to bring current technology and teaching strategies to his classroom instruction.”

“He does a great job balancing all of the hats he wears while also making himself available to help out wherever needed. Mr. Merithew is a great example of what it means to be a part of our Fort Family.”

And it’s not just Moore who feels that way.

“I have some friends who are cheerleaders, and they came up to me and said that their parents wanted to thank us for broadcasting games because they can not go to watch their daughters,” junior executive director of Tribal Review and football broadcasts Sarah Rellihan said.

“We all think about the football players, but now, we can think about all the fans who cannot attend. That comment really made an impact on me and our entire staff. They might not be able to be here in person, but we are allowing them to watch the game, their daughters – basically, everything that goes on, on the field.”

After the game, Merithew and his crew talk a bit about the broadcast, then break down all the equipment, satisfied with a job well done.

“I have the best job in the world and I work with the greatest administration, teachers and students you could find anywhere,” Merithew said.

“We have a special responsibility this year, and my students have bought into that responsibility. We are recording history, we are helping people feel like they are on the scene when they can’t be.

“We have gone from about 350 views a football game to more than 1,300 and we had 6,000 people watch our graduation – and that was a free event. We only charge for our sporting events, and that is a nominal fee.”

When asked about his recent honor, Merithew pauses, and grins.

“There isn’t a better honor than one you receive from your peers,” he said, “but what I really love about it is that it gives me a platform to talk about our students, our broadcasting family, and the impact they have made this year.

“I’m truly blessed to be a part of this school and this school district.”

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