Ben Holton, 54, dies. Used his knowledge to spice up sports announcers’ chatter

Ben Holton used his skills and knowledge to collect and feed sports statistics to game announcers.

Credit: courtesy of the family

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Ben Holton used his skills and knowledge to collect and feed sports statistics to game announcers.

Credit: courtesy of the family

Credit: courtesy of the family

For 15 years, Ben Holton delivered sports statistics and intellectual credibility with lightning speed to play-by-play and color sports announcers — anything from a quarterback’s passing percentage to individual records that were about to get broken.

He worked for ESPN, FOX and regional and national networks, but his most enduring relationship was with ESPN veteran Dave Neal doing SEC football games every fall weekend for the last 12 years.

“I figure that we did 200 games together, and for every one of those Ben was the smartest guy in the booth. His mind worked quicker and in different ways from anybody else,” Neal said.

Holton held a day job in Atlanta as a “computer whisperer,” said his sister Kerrie Holton Tainter. He did jobs such as software integration and development and database programming.

But inside a broadcast booth the computer whisperer preferred a pen and two large sheets paper taped to the wall where he inscribed every conceivable stat for the competing teams and players. There, they were easily decipherable by the play-by-play announcer who typically sat to Holton’s right.

“Ben never trusted the computer,” Neal said. “He was a perfectionist, and his accuracy was uncanny. But he knew better than anyone that a computer could go out at any time or the internet would go out, and it would usually happen two or three times a year.”

Robert Benjamin Holton, 54, died unexpectedly in his Brookhaven home on June 12 from natural causes shortly after attending a memorial service for his mother, who died last year but whose service was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A date for his New Orleans memorial service remains undetermined.

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Ben Holton loved sports and provided statistics to game-day broadcasters for professional and college games.

Ben Holton loved sports and provided statistics to game-day broadcasters for professional and college games.

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Ben Holton loved sports and provided statistics to game-day broadcasters for professional and college games.

Holton’s part-time sports work was a fulltime obsession. College football, baseball and basketball were his favorites. He was a lifelong Louisiana State University fan in all sports, particularly football, yet one of his passwords was inexplicably “roll tide.”

“He knew every conference. He knew for instance the best linebacking corps in the Midwest,” said friend Ryan Johnson. “He’d call me and tell me to stay up late and watch, say, New Mexico State play Nevada. I’d tell him there’s no way those two teams are gonna keep me up late. He’d say, ‘Yeah, but New Mexico has a right guard who could be [an NFL] first-round pick. You don’t want to miss that!’”

Neal said after their broadcast for a game ended, he would catch the first flight out of whatever town they were in. But Holton would stay an extra day, settling in at a local bar and watching as many televised games as possible until the bar closed.

Holton was born May 15, 1967, at the Fort Polk Army Base in central Louisiana, the youngest of three children to Dr. Don B. Holton and Margaret Ann Reeves. Holton’s parents divorced in the mid-1970s, and Ben lived with his mother in New Orleans. He attended the city’s private Isidore Newman High School.

Holton earned a Bachelor’s in Economics in 1989 from Vanderbilt University then a Master of Business Administration at LSU. He moved to Atlanta in 1994 to become the database project manager and developer for the 1996 Olympic games and was eventually promoted to assistant manager of computer operations.

It was during that period he began making connections with ESPN and other sports networks.

Holton’s passions for facts extended beyond sports. He was a film junkie with an endless index of movie quotes he’d occasionally insert during odd conversational transitions. Sometimes he’d fashion an entire soliloquy out of movie quotes.

His cousin Kristy Reeves said Holton loved the music of Prince and “probably could sing every Prince song by heart, even the obscure ones.”

He was a competitive trivia player specializing in U.S. and world history, current events and, of course, sports and movies. High school friend Ben Fortson added that his friend “had a vast font of practical knowledge of mass culture. He was an excellent consumer, and I mean that in a good sense. He had mastered the art of buying a car when he was a teenager.”

“People who aren’t sports fans might not get it,” Ryan Johnson said. “Sports and music can galvanize people even if they have totally different belief systems. Ben and I disagreed on a lot of stuff, especially politics and religion. But when you share the bond and appreciation of sports, that doesn’t matter.”

Ben Holton is survived by his father, Dr. Don B. Holton, (Susie Parker Holton) of Shreveport, Louisiana, his brothers, James Andrew Holton of Broomfield, Colorado, half-brothers John Edwin Holton of South Haven, Mississippi, and Barry Franklin Holton of Shreveport, Louisiana and by his sister, Kerrie Holton Tainter.

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