According to Me: What a man leaves behind

Sometimes all you need to know about a man is how big of a hole he leaves when he’s gone. One of those meteoric craters was left in our community this week.

The first I heard of the cavern was that middle school girls in my wife’s classes were crying when they heard the news. Then I saw Facebook post after Facebook post about how much he would be missed.

They came from members of the Masonic Lodge and his former players and those who toiled alongside him at the SportsPlex and in the local Dixie Youth softball league.

There is no doubt that Rusty Byars left an insatiable hole in the Demopolis community when he exited this life earlier this week.

For as long as I have known of the Demopolis SportsPlex and the youth softball league that so often populates it, Rusty Byars had been there. I did not interact with him frequently, but much of my career has been spent witnessing the products of his work. I’ve seen his softball teams win games. I’ve seen his former players go on to strong middle school and high school careers. I’ve seen the way his daughters have always seemed to be positive and to love this life with largely unparalleled passion. Now, I’ve seen the way so many people from so many corners of our community have reacted almost viscerally to his death.

And, if you step far enough back and can get a look at that big hole that is left in his wake, you’ll find that it is in the shape of a man who committed himself tirelessly and thanklessly to something else and to somebody else. He did so as a staple of the Dixie Youth program, seeing his own children through the softball leagues and then continuing to work in it year after year with other people’s daughters. That’s a rare commitment that is not often touted.

Even for the best of the youth league parents and workers, it seems more about doing one’s time. Most see their own children through and move along. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with that at all, what Rusty Byars did was something completely different and displayed a precious commitment that is indispensable in communities such as ours.

Successful programs of any kind – even successful families – are built on the backs and hearts of men like Rusty Byars. And the remaining legacy that will perpetually affect his former players, masonic brethren and fellow workers will ensure that the impression created by his impact endures for a long time to come.

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on