Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lycoming athletics mourns loss of Bill Byham

A file photo.
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. – The first voice of Lycoming athletics, Bill Byham passed away at age 88 in his South Williamsport home on Tuesday morning, May 30.

“Not only was he an outstanding sports writer and sportscaster, he was an outstanding man who impacted so many people in his lifetime,” Lycoming College’s former director of athletics and football coach Frank Girardi said.

Memorial arrangements are still in plans and will be made public when available.

Byham, who collected several nicknames in his career including “Buck” and “Lefty”, developed an interest in the Warriors while working at WMPT radio in South Williamsport. The school installed a phone line in the stadium and in the gym, and Byham began broadcasting football and basketball games and he even tried wrestling, although he admittedly didn't know much about the sport. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, it was Byham on the broadcast as the Lycoming football team progressed into a national powerhouse under Girardi’s guidance. 

After retiring from the South Williamsport Area High School in 1984, he began a third career when he became the school's sports information director, serving in the role from 1987-92. He publicized some historic moments at the school, including the football team's run to the Division III title game in 1990. Even after retiring from the sports information office, he continued to work on radio broadcasts for the school for more than a decade and a half afterwards, famously teaming with Ken Sawyer for much of this era.

“He was passionate about Lycoming College, and Lycoming College football,” Ken Sawyer, Byham’s broadcast partner for more than a decade, said. “He would spend hours talking to Steve Wiser and talking about the defensive schemes and I would talk with Coach Girardi. Together we would meld what we saw and why it was happening.”

Byham received the College's 2012 Dale V. Bower Service Award and he was inducted into the college’s athletics hall of fame in 2013.

“It is hard to clearly express how impactful his support was and how much I appreciated his constant encouragement as well,” former Lycoming Sports Information Director and Shippensburg Director of Athletics Jeff Michaels ’92 said.  “He was simply a good person who impacted so many of us.”

His impact was felt much more broadly in Lycoming County, as well, as he dedicated his life to education, serving as a Little League volunteer coach. His love of Little League also led him to first take the call at the World Series in 1959 and 57 years later, he was still on the mic during the 2016 Little League World Series. In 2002, during his 44th Little League World Series, the press box section at the Little League Volunteer Stadium was named in his honor.

In 2016, his name was one of the first 20 that were included on the Williamsport Sports Walk, which is located between the Trade & Transit Centre at West Third and Laurel streets to Williamsport’s city hall on West Fourth Street. He was also inducted into the West Branch Valley Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.

“Bill was one of the first people to congratulate me on following in his footsteps as Lycoming’s sports information director,” Lycoming’s Associate Director of Athletics for Communications Joe Guistina said. “There was a lot of pride in his work with the Warriors and he loved watching our athletes compete in any sport. Mr. Byham is more than the sum of his parts and Lycoming College, Little League, South Williamsport and all of Lycoming County are better because of his legacy.”

A native of Kane, Pa., where he was inducted into the high school’s athletics hall of fame, Byham was signed by the New York Giants to a professional baseball contract in 1948, and the 19-year-old southpaw spent two seasons in the minor leagues, pitching in Springfield, Ohio.

He was a seven-time letter winner at Bloomsburg, playing three years of both basketball and baseball and one year of football. A star in basketball, Byham finished second on the team in scoring in the 1951-52 season, earning a spot on the AP’s Honorable Mention All-Pennsylvania team. He was better in baseball. In 1951, he threw back-to-back complete games in a four-day span, striking out 13 batters each time. He was inducted into the Bloomsburg Athletics Hall of Fame in 1994.

After his foray at Bloomsburg, he moved to Downingtown, Pa., where he taught for five years before he moved to South Williamsport in 1958, teaching in the school district for 26 years before his retirement.

While working as a teacher at South Williamsport, he would begin his mornings by heading down the hill at his house to the WMPT radio station for a half-hour sports show and then in the evening, he would do another show – “The Sports Digest” – for which he became increasingly known. It was on his initiative that WMPT became the first radio station to broadcast the Little League World Series, even as the station owner disagreed with the idea. When WMPT stopped offering sports programming, he began to work with other radio stations, continuing to cover countless local sports events on WRLC, WWPA, KISS-FM (WRAK) and finally WLYC (now Fox Sports Williamsport). He also worked on a column in the Webb Weekly that became must read material for sports fans in the county.

Byham worked for 20 years as a coach in the Little League Summer Camp, and served many more years as a volunteer. He also served at the local league level, coaching in the Little Mountaineer Little League in South Williamsport. Countless pitchers from the West Branch Valley benefitted from Byham’s tutelage for nearly six decades. He was honored with the W. Howard Hartman Little League Friendship Award in 1993. In addition, he coached for boys’ and girls’ basketball in short tenures at South Williamsport Area and he also served as an assistant baseball coach at Williamsport Area High School.

Byham is survived by his wife, Nellie, and his two children, Rob and Kathi (Boyle), as well as several grandchildren.

At the end of each of Byham’s radio shows, and at the end of his columns in the Webb Weekly, he would sign off with a traditional print journalism line to signify the end of the piece – That’s 30 –.

What they have to say about Bill Byham:
Former Lycoming football and basketball broadcaster Ken Sawyer
“Bill fit into a unique position for me. When I first met him, we were competitors working at different stations. As we moved along, we began to work together. My father died at a young age. Bill filled that slot in many ways. He was passionate about Lycoming College, and Lycoming College football. He would spend hours talking to Steve Wiser and talking about the defensive schemes and I would talk with Coach Girardi. Together we would meld what we saw and why it was happening. I did a lot of the statistical based things. Bill went with his gut, what he saw on the field. He could come up with things as an athlete and coach that I would never see, and that made a huge difference, especially in a game as emotional as football can be.”

Lycoming College Director of Athletics Mike Clark ’93
“Mr. Byham is a hard man to encompass in a couple sentences. He had a tremendous impact on athletics in the local area for the last 60 years. I remember he was our SID in the 1990s when we made the national championship game. He was always incredibly fair in covering our team. He was passionate about the football program and the college, but more importantly, he was a great person. You always enjoyed speaking with Mr. Byham.”

Lycoming College Assistant Head Football Coach Steve Wiser ’74
“Bill was doing the games on the radio when I was playing. I guess he liked the way I played – I pulled an article out on Sunday from the Webb Weekly in 2004 and he was comparing Mike Kozak to me. I student taught with him in 1974 – the thing that Bill did was he always found a way to make people feel good. He gave great coverage to student-athletes in the area. He had a good feel as he’d watch people play and he saw what was in them. I was the type of guy who never gave up on a play and always played like it could be my last game. He made that comparison in that article in 2004. He loved what he was doing and covering sports and giving people their due. Bill just did an outstanding job of motivating people.”

Shippensburg Director of Athletics Jeff Michaels ’92
“Mr. Byham was a genuine, good person who always looked out for the Lycoming SIDs – as well as to so many other folks at Lycoming and around the area.  I still to this day recall how he took care of watching out for me as a student when I worked in his office and on the campus radio station doing games through the early ’90s. He didn't really know much about me when I started at Lyco, but he was still concerned about me and many others who came through the office because that's just the type of individual he was.  And again, he was supportive and available to me when I returned as SID in 1995.  It is hard to clearly express how impactful his support was and how much I appreciated his constant encouragement as well.  He was simply a good person who impacted so many of us.”

United Way Executive Director/Lycoming College Football Statistician Scott Lowery
“My association with Buck goes back to 1959 when he first arrived here. I did not have him in the classroom, but he was my basketball coach at South Williamsport High School my junior and senior year. For whatever reason, he and I developed a good coach-player relationship. When I came back to the area in the ’70s, he had established himself at WMPT. My college degree was in journalism arts and my dream was to be a Major League Baseball Play-by-Play announcer. He knew things I liked to do and so he got me involved in doing statistics and helping with his football broadcasts. We did that for a number of years. He was an educator first-a coach and a mentor. He became a dear friend. My parents divorced when I was 18 and my dad moved to Arizona and he became in a lot of ways a second father. From the early ’70s to the ’80s, we did basketball and football games. When he retired from South, somehow he got the job as Lycoming’s sports information director. He called me up in 1987 and he told me he got this new gig and he needed help. He hated stats and so I helped him with stats at the football games. That is how I got involved. The Lycoming connection for me came through Buck. He had a great affection for Lycoming. He was a unique individual. Talking to people who had him in the classroom, he had a way to make civics and history come alive. He had an affinity for people. He was stubborn in a lot of ways, but when he got determined to do something, he saw it through. He had a way of working with people to resolve a situation. People gravitated to him and he took time to listen and he tried to help as many as he could.”

Lycoming College Director of Planned Giving and Former Sports Information Director Robb Dietrich
“He was certainly instrumental to me in settling in at Lycoming. I had a one and a half years of work experience before I came here. My best memories of him would be driving in a van to away football games with Ken Sawyer, Scott Lowery, John Green and some students would also come along. The stories he would tell about the glory days of Lycoming football and when Coach Girardi turned the team into a national contender – all of that made me feel a part of the Lycoming community quickly. He was really a mentor for me during the five years I was an SID.”

Fox Sports Williamsport Owner/General Manager Todd Bartley
“Mr. Byham was so kind to me and I consider myself lucky to have broadcast a few Lycoming Football games with him over the years. He will be missed and his impact on the lives of thousands can be seen daily.”

Colonial State Athletic Conference Assistant Commissioner Jim Wagner
“I first met Mr. Byham (that's what I always called him) when I was a student at Susquehanna in the late ’90s and I got to know him during the summer of 1999 when I was an intern at WKSB in Williamsport. The man knew everything about Williamsport and Lycoming county sports. He always had a kind word and I enjoyed my time talking with him. Even during my short stints as an SID at Albright and Widener, I looked forward to seeing him when the Warriors came to town. A great man.”