Prep historian dies
By Bob Romantic, East Valley Tribune
June 25, 2005
Barry Sollenberger, who has been called a walking encyclopedia of Arizona high school sports history, died Thursday on his 60th birthday.
Sollenberger was found by a neighbor in his apartment near Papago Park in Tempe at 12:45 p.m. after he apparently went for his daily jog.
Harold Slemmer, executive director of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, said it is believed Sollenberger died of a heart attack.
"The AIA family — and, man, he was certainly part of our family — has suffered a tremendous loss in the passing of our media relations director," Slemmer said Friday. "Barry’s contribution has been beyond measure. His life has been a gift to those involved in high school athletics."
Sollenberger had been the AIA media relations director only since 1999, but prior to that had the informal title of Arizona high school sports historian for the better part of four decades.
He originated the Phoenix Metro Football magazine in 1970; has published Arizona high school record books for football, track, basketball and baseball; has been hired by about half of the state schools to research their athletic histories; and has spent what he once estimated as one day every week for the past 30 years at the state capitol poring over microfilm from every newspaper ever published in Arizona.
"I always said that Barry probably was the most valuable person as far as high school athletics because he enjoyed what he was doing, and he went into the past to do it," said Ron Cosner, Sollenberger’s best friend and the softball coach at Marcos de Niza. "He was a wealth of information to say the least."
Sollenberger also was cofounder of the Arizona High School Football, City of Scottsdale, and City of Mesa halls of fame.
"It was an amazing thing, working on the Mesa Hall of Fame, to sit in a room with Barry and Skip (Bryant, a fellow historian)," said Steve Hogen, athletic director for the Mesa school district. "These guys could go on and on in detail about games played 30 years ago, what the weather was like, what down it was. It was just absolutely amazing."
Red Mountain football coach Jim Jones spotted Sollenberger’s passion for high school sports as far back as 1968.
Jones, then a senior at Antelope High School in the tiny farming community of Wellton, was competing in the decathlon at a track meet. Sollenberger, who had already graduated from Arcadia High School, was also competing in an open class of the decathlon.
"I was this kid from a small community, but even back then he knew who all the athletes around the state were," Jones said. "I was shocked he even knew who I was. He was able to tell me a few things about myself that I didn’t even know.
"He was a class act walking around that track meet. He made me feel good about myself."
Slemmer made it a top priority to hire Sollenberger when he took over at the AIA, and said they are fortunate to have put about 85 percent of Sollenberger’s findings on the AIA Web site.
For the past 10 years, Sollenberger also has been working on a book entitled "The 100-Year History of High School Football in Arizona." Slemmer said the book "is about 95 percent complete, and we want to finish that up for him."
Sollenberger, who never married, is survived by his brothers Mark and Jim. Funeral arrangements are pending, and Slemmer said he plans to put together a memorial service in early August once many people in the high school community return from vacations.