Opinion: Working with Jerry Byrd

2050

For quite some time now, I have wanted our newspaper to do some type of recognition for Jerry Byrd, long time Sports Editor for the Bossier Press Tribune. A couple of months ago, I got together with Bossier Press Tribune Managing Editor Sean Green and Sports Editor Russell Hedges and after a lengthy discussion, we began putting our ideas together.  In short, Jerry Byrd is a local sports legend. He is  also a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. Through the years, Jerry Byrd has written numerous award winning sports columns and has also won many sports related awards and honors.       I have personally known Jerry Byrd for several years now and I am most proud to call him my friend.

My first memory of Jerry Byrd was when I was eight years old. We had a park in our neighborhood where I used to hang out with a group of friends. Even at such a young age, we were already sports fans and often talked sports. As such, I vividly remember discussing what was in Jerry Byrd’s sports columns. I am not really sure if we were actually reading the paper at that point or if we were just repeating what we had heard our fathers say. Either way, Jerry Byrd’s sports columns were a very popular topic when we talked sports. In those days (1969), as so many people constantly let me know they remember, Jerry was the Sports Editor for Shreveport’s afternoon newspaper (The Shreveport Journal).

RandyJerry always spoke very proudly of his Shreveport Journal days and told me stories so many times of starting to work there in 1955 – fresh out of college at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. He would tell me how he started to work in the sports department at the Journal for $35-$40 per week and how his family thought he was rich! He would also tell me how the Sports Editor at the Journal at the time had started to work there in 1918. Jerry could tell that I was interested in hearing all of this. So, he would continue with the stories for lengthy periods of time…and I was always eager and ready to listen.

Looking back to the time when I started to work at the Bossier Press Tribune (2001), I remember the day I learned that Jerry Byrd was now the Sports Editor at BPT. I knew right then that I was working in the midst of a legend and it also made me realize (even further) just what a special place our newspaper happened to be. When I was out making my sales calls and in the public arena, almost everyone that I came in contact with would ask me immediately upon learning that I was with the Bossier Press Tribune “How’s Jerry Byrd doing?” “You know he is a legend.” In short, during his time here with us, Jerry Byrd was the Bossier Press Tribune in so many ways.

Early in the Summer of 2007, former Bossier Press Tribune Publisher and current Specht Newspapers President (David Specht) and I decided that we would help out our sports department (and Jerry Byrd) by going out and shooting area sports. At that point in the summer, it was baseball season (Bossier Little League and Bossier Dixie League). And then pretty soon after that, high school football began. Between high school football,  middle school football and a few other area sports activities, I was finding myself out on the area sports fields, somewhere, almost every night of the week. I loved it! I was hooked! I had found myself a hobby that I had always wanted to pursue and I was also helping out our newspaper at the same time! Again, I loved it! Jerry Byrd really appreciated the help too.

With photography lessons, guidance and frequent pointers directed my way by David Specht, I learned pretty fast and was having a great time in doing so! Jerry would always ask me to call him with the final score after the game(s). After a few times of my doing this, Jerry would always ask me to be sure to tell the coach to call him after the game and would also give me his cell phone number to give to the coach. As instructed, I would always go up to the coaches after the game and ask them to call Jerry Byrd. It quickly got to point to where I would not even have to say a word to the coaches. As soon as I made it into range of sight, the coaches would say “I know, call Jerry Byrd” to which I would then reply, “ok coach, but let me give you his cell phone number.” Then, they would almost always say “I’ve got it, I have it memorized,” and they would then proceed to recite it back to me. Yes, they knew Jerry well and of course, they loved him too.                       

Furthermore, I fondly remember being at Bossier High School in 2008-2009 for a middle school basketball tournament. In this particular tournament, both gyms at Bossier High are always used. When Jerry asked to me to go there to cover the event and told me to be aware that some of the games would be played in the old gym too, I quickly let him know that I did not even know that Bossier High had two gyms. Jerry quickly let me know that there are definitely two gyms at Bossier High and in 1960, Bossier played for the state basketball championship in the old gym under coach John McConathy. Jerry began to give me exacting details of the game – as he always did when recalling a sporting event that he had covered. He then asked me to please take some pictures of the old gym for him – as he would like to see it again for sentimental reasons. I did as instructed and later on that evening, I sent him some photos of the gym, as well as the games I had photographed that day for the current tournament.  I will always remember that.

My final Jerry Byrd story involves the Louisiana Boys Top 28 Basketball Tournament in 2009. Bossier High School made it into the finals that year for a chance to play for the state championship. This was the first of Bossier High’s three state championship appearances in recent years. Bossier High had an incredible team that year and I had followed them very closely during the season – attending most every game and in turn, photographing the games for our newspaper. The Boys Top 28 was still played at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette then and Bossier’s state championship game against Salmen was slated for 7:00 pm on a Friday night (March 9, 2009, I think, to be exact). Anyway, I left Bossier City around 2 pm that afternoon (after I had finished my sales calls for the day) in a heavy rain. I ran out of the rain below Alexandria and made it to Lafayette and the Cajun Dome just a little before 6 pm. I called Jerry to tell him that I was there. He said “good. ” I knew what was coming next, “call me with the final score and tell the coach to call me after the game.” “One final thing, I know it will be late when you get home (I had to come back home that night after the game due to a family reunion in Minden the next day with which my Mom had threatened my life if I missed it), but would you mind dropping me off the program in my mailbox when you get back to town?” It was 1:30 am when I got back to Shreveport, but I delivered Jerry his Top 28 program. He never minded to ask me  to do almost anything…and in turn,  I didn’t mind to do my very best to deliver what he requested. To Jerry Byrd, if you were on the job covering sports, you were on the job..and you did what you had to do to get the job done!

One last thing that I will always remember that Jerry taught me, when shooting basketball, always shoot the scorebook. I would often forget in the early days…….and would sometimes get in trouble with Jerry for it, in a friendly sort of way. I learned so much from Jerry and he came to be my good friend. I am a better newspaper man today from knowing Jerry Byrd. And, I have thanked God so many times for making sure that our paths crossed.

Randy Brown is Publisher of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He can be reached at rbrown@bossierpress.com