The Journal Gazette
Monday, December 16, 2019 11:55 am

Goodbye to By: North Side Coach Hey dies at 91

BEN SMITH | Special to The Journal Gazette

Memory is a devious creature sometimes. It plays you like a carnival huckster conning the chumps out of their hard-earned change, and that’s just a fact.

And so let's begin here by saying By Hey’s mighty North Side legions did NOT knock our New Haven Bulldogs out of the basketball sectional every single year, even if it seemed that way.

Come March we'd don our paper sectional bowlers and traipse off to Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, and there By would be waiting with Doug Brown or John Ankenbruck or Dave Moser. And it was time to call it a season and start practicing baton passes and the timely drag bunt.

This put By in the black hat, always. That we were no more right about that than the chump on the midway is worth acknowledging today, as word comes down that By has passed at the generous age of 91.

Few better embodied what Indiana high school basketball was in its full flower, when there were hundreds of teams in hundreds of tiny dots on the map, and come March they all went into the same hopper. By was the quintessential product of that era, a Fort Wayne boy who played at Concordia and then came back to town as an assistant at Central and then head coach at his alma mater, and then went on to spend 31 decorated years at North Side.

By the time he gave up the whistle, he'd won 550 games across 34 seasons and took Moser and North to the state finals in 1965, where they lost to Billy Keller and Indianapolis Washington in the state championship game.

But somewhere in all of that, there was more.

Somewhere, in those 550 wins, there were cold winter nights in warm well-lit places, and the thick perfume of popcorn. There was the adolescent chanting of cheerleaders, the gleam of a hardwood floor, rippling nets on an orange rim. There was the shriek of a whistle, the shriek of outrage that attended it, and then Boy, look at Coach Hey, he's really giving that ref what-for.

By was a thread that led us back to those days, and to imagine that they no longer exist even though they do. Everything we remember about Indiana high school basketball in that era still exists, you see, even if every geezer lighting a candle to Bobby Plump refuses to believe it.

If there are four classes now, and girls basketball, too, there is still popcorn and nets fanned by dead-eye jumpers, and cold winter nights in warm well-lit places. If there is no longer a sectional in Fort Wayne, or Hilliard Gates and Peter Eckrich Meats bringing you the action live from the BEAUTIFUL War Memorial Coliseum, there remains the shriek of whistles in the background -- eliciting, of course, the same timeless shrieks of outrage.

There is also an acknowledgment that memory is imperfect. Which gets us back to By Hey and black hats.

In later years, see, this New Haven grad got to know By, and a more gracious and effervescent man never breathed air. A coach to his bones, he always wanted to talk basketball when I'd bump into him in some warm well-lit place, and his enthusiasm in doing so always lit it further. It was simply impossible not to like the man.

And so, goodbye to By, and to all that. An era doesn't die with him, though it perhaps grows dimmer.

But like his enthusiasm, and his passion, its essence never does.

Ben Smith is a former sportswriter for The Journal Gazette.

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