Dan Vance is one of the co-creators of Outside the Huddle.
I had never met a man like By Hey before. I don’t think that I will ever meet another person like him.
The great former North Side coach passed away this past weekend at the age of 91; a Hall of Fame coach and, in my estimation, a Hall of Fame human being. Getting to know Hey on any level was a blessing for me and I was lucky enough to do it on multiple different levels in the past 18 years.
I first interviewed Hey in high school, writing a piece on him for the North Side High School yearbook, The Legend. I sat in then-Athletic Director Dale Doerffler’s office in the pre-renovated North Side High School for almost two hours. I can’t recall exactly, but I think I asked coach three questions. That was one of my first, what I would define as great, interviews as a journalist. And interviews like that during my time in high school was what made me fall in love with writing. Hey was a fountain of knowledge and he loved sharing it with others.
“I came to North because, in my eyes, it was a top school in the state,” Hey told me in 2001 for that interview. “In the sixties and seventies, I then realized we were also one of the top schools in the country.”
Hey loved being a North Side Redskin. That never changed about him.
When I served as an assistant boys basketball coach at North Side from 2003-2008, Hey was a constant around our program. In 2004, the school named their brand new, post-renovation gymnasium after him as By Hey Arena. Through those years, coach was always eager to share his stories and his coaching views with me. He would pop in at practice, he would be at home games often near the bench. He stood and proudly sang along with the national anthem at those games in a place he was so humble about having been named in his honor.
I didn’t see coach for a number of years, but once I was back living in Fort Wayne, you would often see him at home in By Hey Arena for a game. When I was able to serve on the board for the school’s newly minted Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015, talking with Hey was my top priority on induction day. I was thrilled to be able to sit at talk with coach and his wife in the school’s cafeteria that morning, hearing more stories and his thoughts on being inducted into his third Hall of Fame and the impending school mascot change.
That day, August 29 of 2015, I posted on social media about the event with a quote from Hey that will always ring true.
“You and I aren’t going to change. We are always going to be Redskins,” Hey said as part of his speech that morning. It was an odd time of transition for the school and coach’s words spoke volumes for how so many people felt. Those words resonated through the pro-Redskin, maybe a little anti-Legend attendees.
Hey talked for a long time that morning. He eventually was ushered from the podium by his family so that the rest of the inaugural Hall of Fame ceremony, featuring 24 total inductees, could wrap. I sat there on the floor, photographing the event, not bothered at all by coach’s run time. I would listen to that man talk all day long and hang on almost every word. Maybe that was the journalist in me, that just liked to hear the stories; maybe it was the North Side alum in me that had become enamored with the history of the basketball program during my time as a student and coach.
But I was willing to sit there for hours, as I had done many times before, hearing stories of the 1965 state finals run, the historic 1975 five-overtime win or any of the thousands of stories he could recite like they happened the day before.
A couple of years later, I was able to reconnect with Coach Hey again, this time as North Side was about to return to the state finals for the first time since he coached the 1965 team there 52 years earlier. It was a joy sitting there in coach’s house as he flipped through a 1965 yearbook and newspaper clippings, walking me through his only shot at a state title as a coach. He had a sparkle in his eye and nostalgic cheer in his voice looking back at March 20, 1965. Around that same time, I spoke with 1965 team members Mark Henry and Dave Moser about the experience and about playing for Hey. They clearly loved the man like family, an impression that he had left on them more than two-thirds of their life prior.
You aren’t going to run into people that have bad things to say about By Hey, even from his sometimes fiery head coaching days. He was a treasure to North Side, Fort Wayne and to the sport of basketball in general. And there have been great coaches since in the city; there have been great men patrolling those sidelines.
But there will never be another one like By Hey.