Three times I tried not to hire Barry Byers.
The third time he signed-on despite my fatherly advice never to take a pay cut. I pointed out that he could keep his better-paying day job and continue picking up extra money covering football games for The Herald on Friday nights.
Barry saw the merits of my argument but eventually surrendered to his passion for football.
It was good for Herald readers that he did.
Barry, who died a little over a week ago, spent 30 years working for this newspaper. When he started as a part-timer under Sports Editor Buddy McCarter, the paper was still known as The Evening Herald. By the time he succumbed to cancer, Barry had reported a zillion games, written thousands of columns and covered high school sports in Upstate South Carolina like no one else ever has.
Barry was so plugged-in that on more than one occasion he informed me that a head coach was about to resign but asked me not to say anything because the principal didn’t know yet. His knowledge of prep sports was such that coaches often sought his advice before making a career change.
As much he loved coaches, Barry loved their players more.
He believed that sports held life lessons every kid needed.
When an athlete did something stupid, Barry was the last person who wanted to write about his misdeeds.
“Barry,” I would say, “We made that kid a celebrity. When he screws up, it’s news.”
He understood my point, but it pained him to write something that might detract attention from kids who played by the rules.
Unlike many sportswriters, Barry never aspired to work anywhere else, although he mentored a number of kids who would make their mark in the trade. Chris Low, who covers the SEC for ESPN.com, and David Cloninger, who writes about the Gamecocks for The State, come to mind.
Barry’s first love was the Rock Hill High Bearcats, the Gamecocks second, but he never let his affections dictate which games he covered.
Despite his admitted football chauvinism, Barry knew the story was not about the shape of the ball but the heart of the person throwing, dribbling or kicking it.
One of the best articles he ever wrote was about the difficult road traveled by an immigrant kid from Uruguay on his way to being a star on the Northwestern High soccer team. Enzo Martinez later became an All American at Chapel Hill and was drafted in an opening round of the MLS draft.
When a fund-raiser was held by a church to defray his enormous medical bills, two NFL players made sizable contributions anonymously -- their way of paying back the love to a man who had covered them since Peewee football days.
Whether it was Ivory Latta running bigger girls ragged in York Comprehensive’s gym or Northwestern High’s Angelina Blackmon leaving runners in her wake, Barry played up the best story of the day. A kid’s color or gender mattered not.
I think one reason Barry liked to spotlight girls’ athletics was that he had three daughters. He loved them, his grandkids and his wife even more than he loved sports.
Barry’s knowledge of prep sports may not have been encyclopedic, but it was pretty deep. He once asked Great Fall’s legendary basketball coach John Smith why he hadn’t said anything about nearing his 500th win. Smith assured Barry he wouldn’t reach that milestone until the following season. Barry pulled out the record book and set Coach Smith straight.
He was fond of declaring that the best high school football in America was played in York County. “Barry,” I responded, “folks in West Texas might take issue with you.”
The day after Barry died, USC faced off against SEC rival Tennessee. Each team featured a 2010-11 Gatorade High School Player of the Year: USC’s Jadeveon Clowney (defense) and Tennessee’s Justin Worley (offense). They had played for South Pointe and Northwestern, respectively.
I suspect Barry Byers was looking down on that game with his inimitable smirk.
Sorry, Barry, I should have known not to argue high-school football with you.
Email former Herald Editor Terry Plumb at email@example.com