USA Announcer J.D. Byars
Photo by Scott Donaldson/University of South Alabama.
J.D. Byars joined the University of South Alabama (USA) athletic program in 2014 as the director of broadcasting. Prior to that, he was a well-established sports reporter, director and play-by-play announcer at the other end of the state in Huntsville and Florence.
His large body of work is now being recognized by the National Sports Media Association (NSMA), which has named Byars the Alabama Sportscaster of the Year.
“When I saw who had previously won and to now be in that group, I initially thought there had to be an error in the ballot counting,” Byars said. “It is definitely humbling to be in the same breath as [University of Alabama announcer] Eli Gold; to be a finalist was an honor itself. I really didn’t expect to win, and when I got a call that that was the case, I was really shocked.”
Byars is the voice of Jaguar athletics and handles play-by-play duties for Jaguar football and baseball games, as well as play-by-play coverage for ESPN+ for men’s and women’s basketball games. Byars also handles the 11-station, statewide network for Jaguar Sports Properties, which covers the major cities, reaching 3.35 million people per game day.
“First and foremost, I think it recognizes a history of great work by J.D.,” said USA Director of Athletics Joel Erdmann. ”What people hear on game days and other broadcasts doesn’t just happen. That takes a lot of preparation and practice, and it is great that he is recognized for that.
“From an institutional perspective, we are fortunate to have J.D., because we will gain the notoriety on his behalf for gaining this award. It is definitely an honor for J.D., but also a privilege for us to be associated with him.”
The awards banquet will take place Monday, June 29, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
“You make so many friends and build so many relationships along the way, and when I looked at the list of past winners — Jim Fyffe, Chris Stewart, Eli Gold, Gary Sanders, Rod Bramblett — I kind of think everybody is molded by their Mount Rushmore,” Byars said. “Those are guys who influenced, at some point, some aspect of my own style. I feel like I am kind of a blend of everything I absorbed over the years from them.”
NSMA annually recognizes a National Sportscaster and National Sportswriter of the Year, as well as a sportscaster and sportswriter in each state. The Alabama Sportswriter of the Year is Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News.
All the winners can be found at nationalsportsmedia.org.
Honoring a Saint
Administrators from St. Paul’s Episcopal School have announced Jim Tate will end his 52-year career as a coach, educator and role model at the end of this semester.
“Jim’s entire life and career have been a living testament to service, honor, and excellence. Even more importantly, they are a tribute to his love of young people and his dedication to their growth,” Head of School N. Blair Fisher and Athletic Director Steve Mask stated in a letter to the St. Paul’s community.
After earning his bachelor’s degree from The Citadel and a master’s degree from The University of Alabama, the UMS-Wright Prep School graduate served as an artillery officer in the U.S. Army from 1964 to 1969 (including a tour of duty in Vietnam with the 173rd Airborne Brigade). Following his military career, he was hired by Headmaster Rufus Bethea as a coach at Christ Church Episcopal School in Greenville, South Carolina.
When Bethea moved to St. Paul’s, he reached out for Tate to join him. So on June 1, 1978, Tate returned to his hometown. He has since coached thousands of students in basketball, football, track and cross-country.
“I began my coaching and teaching career in 1970 following five years of active duty in the United States Army as a field artillery officer recently returned from Vietnam,” Tate told Lagniappe. “During my career, I have experienced head coaching duties in varsity football [three years], varsity basketball [eight years], track and cross-country [47 years].”
According to St. Paul’s, Tate holds what may be a national record for a single coach. His boys’ and girls’ squads have claimed 102 separate state team championships in track and cross-country combined, and posted another 53 state team runner-up finishes. His girls’ cross-country teams hold the current national record for the longest consecutive state championships in the nation at 16 (1983 to 1998).
The personal honors are just as impressive. He was named National Boys Cross-Country Coach of the Year in 1998; inducted into Christ Church Episcopal School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2000; inducted into Mobile Sports Hall of Fame in 2008; named National High School Girls Track & Field Coach of the Year in 2010; inducted into the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011; selected as National High School Girls Track & Field Coach of the Year by USA Track & Field/Gill Athletics in 2011; inducted into National Federation of State High School Associations’ National High School Hall of Fame in 2013; inducted into UMS-Wright Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015; and named Alabama Girl’s Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association in 2015.
In 2010, St. Paul’s Episcopal School dedicated the Jim Tate Track & Cross-Country Field House at the school. The $400,000 facility serves as home base for the Saints’ programs.
“Through it all, I have had some wonderful experiences and been surrounded by supportive communities in every instance,” Tate told Lagniappe. “I never felt as if I was ‘going to work,’ but rather that I was doing what I looked forward to day after day and season after season. Not many people can honestly say that, but I can. The last 42 of my coaching years have been here in Mobile where I grew up, and all at St. Paul’s, where I continued to have tremendous support and amazing people to work with and around.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this career and I hope I have given back at least a fraction of what I feel I have been given.”
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