For Owls' Byers, coaching basketball is labor of love Westminster turns in perfect season in county

February 21, 1993|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

Dave Byers had all the same dreams that young basketball coaches have.

He had visions of coaching at a level where 12 players who loved the game came to him for a season of dedication to the sport.

The Westminster High coach believes playing and coaching basketball deserve that kind of respect.

But the bright lights of collegiate coaching never lured Dave Byers away from the country life he cherishes so much in Carroll County.

"If I get too far away from Pleasant Valley Road, I get lost," said the man who was born, raised and still lives in the Westminster area. "No one ever asked me to coach at the college level and I never pursued it."

Many of Byers' friends believe he could have been a successful collegiate coach because of his knowledge of the game and innate ability to discipline athletes.

"I think he's one of the best high school basketball coaches I've ever seen," said former Owls football and baseball head coach Guy Stull, who has been around Byers for 22 years at Francis Scott Key and Westminster. "He's a top disciplinarian, makes kids work hard, is well-organized, loves the game and gets the most out of his talent every year. I would have liked to see him move up to a small college job somewhere. He would have been very good."

The winners have been all the Francis Scott Key and Westminster High basketball players who have learned the game from Byers, 45, over the past 22 years.

One of those is current Owls standout Todd Dorsey.

"Coach Byers is on top of everything. He knows his stuff. We go into every game prepared for what is going to happen," said Dorsey. "It's not his fault if we don't execute."

This season, the Owls have won the county championship and are in strong contention for the state class 4A regionals. After routing Liberty Friday night, they are 12-8 overall, 8-3 in the Central Maryland Conference and 6-0 in the county.

Byers has quietly won around 250 games and lost 200 with players who weren't always the most talented. He is coaching players who usually only play the game from November to March.

But Byers says he has no regrets.

"I've been fortunate to work with some damn good kids over the years," he said. "I've had some talent. I don't want this to be a story about Dave Byers surviving in the badlands of Carroll County for all these years. I want to focus on the kids I've had and how they have done the most with what they've had. The reason I coach is to make them the best they can be."

So how has Byers been able to discipline so many youngsters over so many years in times when discipline isn't so popular?

"On the first day of practice he comes in and tells the players and everybody else how it's going to be and if they don't like it they can move on," said Owls athletic trainer Paul Welliver. "They know Dave is never going to waver on discipline."

Byers said his tactics aren't militaristic, just necessary for a team sport.

"Basketball is a very selfish sport but it has to be played unselfishly," he said. "You're dealing with a sport where anybody on the floor can shoot and they can have an excuse if they don't pass to an open man. They can just say they didn't see him. That happens when you have players who don't like each other."

From a superb understanding of the Xs and Os to working the officials from the sidelines, Byers gets consistently high marks.

He played at Westminster High for Cokey Robertson, who has gone on to become a successful coach at St. Maria Goretti in Hagerstown, the school that produced former North Carolina State star Rodney Monroe.

In Byers' junior year at Westminster, 1964, he played in the state class A (then top level) semifinals at Cole Field House.

"Cokey taught me more about basketball than anybody," said Byers. "He loved the game and respected it so much. I have a lot of respect for coaching because of Cokey. The game was very important to him. He was a rarity for Carroll County."

Byers began his collegiate basketball career at Bridgewater (Va.) College and played his final two years at Towson State for Vince Angotti. He was a starter his junior year at Towson and a sixth man as a senior.

But the Owls coach said he has long since realized that his playing career is over.

"The game is for the kids," he said. "I'm too old to play. When the kids get out on the floor it's a chance for them to pass a test of what they've learned in practice. It's a great feeling to see the look on their faces when something works in a game that you've shown them in practice.

"I'm going to coach as long as I enjoy the practices," said Byers. "That's why I stay in the game. I thoroughly enjoy working with kids in a practice situation."

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