Barry Byers gave me my start in high school football.
In the Fall of my first year at Winthrop University, The Herald came to campus to do some promotions for the newspaper, and set up shop right in front of Richardson Hall, my dormitory. I asked if they needed any help at the paper. I needed some extra spending money, and thought of myself as a decent writer. They said that they always needed help in sports, what they called “stringers”, a word I was unfamiliar with, but basically means a freelance journalist, who writes on a part-time basis and gets paid by the story. They said to go see Barry Byers – a name which meant nothing to me then – and to introduce myself, and see if he needed help. The rest is history.
Barry was a great mentor to young writers. What he normally would do is take you out to a game with him, and let you get a feel for taking stats, getting quotes, and writing on deadline. Then we would hustle back to the office where he would file his story, edit others’ stories, and help with the layout of the sports page. This is the sanitized version, of course. There was lots of snacking, smoking, cursing, raised voices, and other curiosities that for an 18-year old kid was astonishing. But I was in love, and the next three years a kid who had rarely ventured out of Tennessee was traipsing all over South Carolina – to Lockhart, and McBee, and Calhoun Falls – and a thousand other places you’d only go if Barry sent you there.
I remember my first story that Barry let me write “on my own”. It was a football game at Chester. I think they played Fairfield Central, and I wrote this awful, terrible, cliché, lede that the sports department made fun of me for forever. And there was the time I had to dictate a story from a Huddle House and the banging of pots was so loud they could barely hear my words. Or when I actually made up a word in story: “Joseph,” in his Barry voice, “I don’t think that’s a word”. But I got better, and Barry began to trust me. That gave me a lot of confidence as a writer, but also as a kid finding his way as a sort of semi-adult. The first time I got to cover a Northwestern football game I knew I was doing something right. “This game is going on the front page, and it needs to be 17-inches, and you need to get a quote from both coaches and a player,” which was his way of saying, “This game is a big deal, don’t screw it up.”
From there I got to cover state football playoffs, a state championship, Winthrop basketball and baseball, Knights baseball, and Ivory Latta’s historic run at York High School. One of the things that impressed me was the way Barry championed all athletes in all sports. If you were good, he’d find you, and would spotlight your achievements. He also protected his stringers; I know he got phone calls about a mistake we’d made, or several, but he always focused on helping us get better, and pushing us to be our best.
Hearing of Barry’s death sent a flood of memories through me, and hundreds of stories I’d love to tell about my three years working for him. He gave me my start in South Carolina high school football, and without him, I never get a chance to be on the radio, or see and meet so many wonderful people. My years spent at The Herald with Barry (among others) were some of the highlights of my college career. He’s one of the true characters in life, and I was privileged to know him personally.