EDITOR’S NOTE: The wait is ongoing for area teams. Area players. Area coaches. Area parents. When will sports resume as the world deals with the COVID-19 pandemic? Good question. Until then, Champaign News-Gazette sports editor Matt Daniels spent last week telling the stories of those impacted by the pandemic in a variety of ways. His April 5 segments included Mahomet-seymour graduate Bret Beherns, local TV anchor.
Bret Beherns was at home the morning of March 12. He was helping his wife, Jenna, out by taking care of their three children — 6-year-old Aberle, 4-year-old Gabriel and 5-month-old Ezekiel.
The WCIA sports director since 2015 knew his two sports reporters, Craig Choate and Marlee Wierda, were on their way to Indianapolis ahead of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament. Illinois was slated to open play in the quarterfinals on March 13.
That changed quickly, with the Big Ten canceling the tournament because of the coronavirus pandemic and the NCAA following suit a few hours later with the cancelation of the men’s basketball tournament.
Wierda proceeded on to make the drive to Indianapolis to get fan reaction for the 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. newscasts, while Choate stayed back in Champaign for reaction once the Illini arrived back at Ubben Basketball Complex late Thursday afternoon.
Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman and Illinois men’s basketball coach Brad Underwood addressed the assembled media in a press conference less than 18 hours later at State Farm Center. By then, Beherns realized all the coverage he and his team had planned for the next few days and weeks would have to change.
“My team and I spent multiple hours coming up with a game plan,” Beherns said. “It’s been an ongoing process to fill our time and provide newsworthy content every day.”
Yet, that’s what they’ve done. And, Beherns said, they’ll continue to do so throughout the pandemic.
“I preach to my team daily, ‘How are we staying relevant?’ and ‘How are we being creative today to step outside of our normal comfort zone of how we operate?’” Beherns said. “We’ve been doing a good job of adapting, and I think our coverage shows that. Just because games are canceled doesn’t mean people are. It’s up to us to find stories that matter.”
Beherns has quite the story he can tell as well. The 2005 Mahomet-Seymour High School graduate, who went on to earn degrees from Parkland College in 2008 and Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 2010, suffered a life-altering injury in the summer of 2006. He fell 80 feet from a cellphone tower in Rochester while working a summer job, somehow survived despite a myriad of serious injuries and spent 54 days in the hospital recovering. His broken left leg eventually had to be amputated.
But Beherns has used that event to help inspire others, sharing his story in multiple speaking engagements around the area each year.
“God spared my life,” Beherns said. “Now, I’m just doing my best to make the most out of my second chance at life. I love sharing my story with others, and unfortunately COVID-19 has postponed a few events on my schedule.”
Still, Beherns is staying optimistic in these unforeseen times. Even without live sporting events.
“I’m no different than any other sports fan,” Beherns said. “I want nothing more than for everyone to be healthy, first and foremost, and for sports to return. The one positive thing out of all this for me is that it’s given me a chance to spend a lot more time at home with my family. March is always crazy, and I’m traveling a lot. While not covering my first NCAA tournament is disappointing, getting to see my kids every night for dinner and on the weekends is a huge plus.”