Sollenberger’s zeal will be missed
By Craig Morgan, East Valley Tribune
June 25, 2005
In my 11 years of Arizona sports journalism, I must have sent prep historian Barry Sollenberger a thousand queries. Every time, the response was the same. "What are you going to do when I die, Craig?" I guess I’ll find out now.
The foremost authority on Arizona prep sports died Thursday at his apartment near Papago Park of an apparent heart attack on his 60th birthday. Sollenberger had been out jogging, as he did every morning, with his dog, "Puppy." Maybe you didn’t know Barry like I did.
Maybe you didn’t spend hours poring over Mesa High’s football records from the 1930s while Barry expounded the virtues of quarterback Horace Griffen.
Maybe you didn’t wander the maze of upstairs file cabinets in his apartment while Sollenberger, always barefoot, searched for a yellowing photo.
Maybe you didn’t marvel at his comprehensive collection of media guides that, had he married, surely would have wound up in a dumpster.
Maybe you didn’t endure his endless diversions and tangents because you knew they’d ultimately lead to an answer.
But if your kid played, plays or will play high school sports, if you are a fan of prep sports or if you just believe in celebrating our state’s athletic annals, trust me, you will miss this man.
"He was a gift to kids," Arizona Interscholastic Association executive director Harold Slemmer said.
"He devoted his life to researching the state’s sports history," added best friend and Marcos de Niza softball coach Ron Cosner.
Sollenberger did it with zeal. He never had kids of his own, but he adopted thousands through his work.
He spent countless hours at the state capitol investigating on his own time and own dime.
Schools from every corner of the state hired him to scan newspaper clippings and yearbooks to update their records.
Every coach and prep writer rushed to buy Barry Sollenberger’s Complete Phoenix Metropolitan Football Preview each August to see who Barry had tabbed for gridiron greatness.
And when Slemmer offered him a job as media relations director in 1999, Sollenberger brought his exhaustive physical and mental archives to the AIA and so enriched the state. "I don’t have any idea how we’re going to replace his efforts," Slemmer said.
Neither do I.
"It’s not really exciting (work) unless you’re involved in it like we’ve been," said fellow historian Skip Bryant, the former sports editor of the Tempe Daily News. "But for Barry, it was like going back and reviving memories."
Sollenberger had a vault of them.
He would giggle when he told you Tombstone’s former nickname was the Morticians. He would speak in reverent tones of Phoenix Union’s Montgomery Stadium.
And he would bristle when others demeaned Arizona’s sports pedigree.
"He was proud of Arizona sports and I think that showed with how involved he was," Cosner said.
Every Friday during prep football season, Sollenberger and Cosner chose two big games to attend, leaving at halftime of one to catch the final 24 minutes of another.
He read the results and exploits of every contest and when a reporter got a fact wrong in a story, they knew there would be a message waiting for them when they came to work the next morning.
"He probably knew more about high school sports in this state than anyone ever had," Bryant said. "He was very determined and dedicated to get all those statistics and records right and he was the type of guy who hung with it until he got the job done."
I never got a chance to say goodbye to Sollenberger. Summer is the one season when I don’t fill his voice mail with my ignorant pleas.
So I guess I’ll just bid him farewell the way I always did after those educational fall conversations.
See you on Friday night, Barry.