More Tributes to Mike Byrnes, courtesy of Walt Murphy News & Results Services, permission from publisher


Thumbnail image for Mike_for_obit.pngMike Byrnes, photo by

Here are some more thoughtful tributes to the late, great and colorful Mike Byrnes. How can you not love a guy, who as one friend noted, could take a five minute story and make it thirty minutes.

Walt Murphy's News and Results Service ([email protected])
(c)Copyright 2015-all rights reserved. May not be reprinted or retransmitted without permission.

Some of you might not be familiar with Mike Byrnes, who passed away last Saturday, but he had a lasting impact on the sport in many ways.

He was a long-time coach at Long Island's Wantagh H.S. and his runners remained devoted to him long after they graduated from the school. One of his runners was Ron Gustafson, the winner of the first H.S. 2-mile held at the Penn Relays in 1965
He later coached Sarah Bowman(now Brown), now one of America's best at 1500-meters, during her high school career.
He was a tireless meet director and promoter on Long Island. One of the meets he directed was the 1970 AAU Junior Championships, where the legendary Dr. Delano Meriwether, who was new to the sport at the time, won the 100-yard dash and would go on to become one of the world's fastest sprinters. Said Byrnes, "Meriwether spent the night prior to the meet sleeping on my couch in the living room. We spent part of the evening with me teaching him how to use starting blocks!"

But the crowning jewel of his long career was his role in helping to develop post-season meets for high school athletes.Along with Tracy Sundlun and Jim Spier, Mike helped create the Pathmark National Scholastic Classic, an indoor meet that was the forerunner of the current National Scholastic Indoor and Outdoor Championships.

Mike wrote about the first three years of the meet (1984-1986) in this 2008 article:
Many of America's greatest stars over the last three decades, including Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross, got their first taste of national recoginition through this program.

On a personal note, Mike was a dear friend and we enjoyed each other's company many times over the years. We shared beers and laughs at the Penn Relays, the Foot Locker and NCAA X-Country Championships, and countless other meets. I'm not sure what we ever did to deserve this reputation, but whenever Mike's wife Joan would hear that he was with myself and Penn Relays Director Dave Johnson, she would caution him--'be careful!"(-: The last time I saw Mike was in 2012, when Dave and I traveled down to Culpeper, Virginia, to join in Mike's surprise 80th birthday party, which was also attended by many of his former runners. (See pictures below)

Elliott Denman has done a great job in compiling many of the tributes that have been pouring in, as well as offering his own memories of Mike, in this article:

A "Memories of Mike" page will soon be posted at

Photos from Mike's 80th Birthday Party


The threee grey-beards--me, Mike, Dave Johnson

Mike and some of his runners, including Sarah Bowman(but not the 2 in front!)

Here are some other comments

"Mike Byrnes encouraged me in the early days of DyeStat when some others weren't sure we belonged. Thanks, Mike." John Dye

"Very sad - he was one of a kind. Before there was a national meet, Jim and Mike contacted me about adding a boys one mile run to the girls Eastern States invitational (myself and 2 of my coaches founded the meet), at Mitchel Field, in an attempt to go under 4:00 - I said yes and all of a sudden we had George Kersh from Mississippi, Jason Pyrah from Missouri, and Paul Vandegrift from Pennsylvania battling it out on Long Island!
The sub 4:00 mile didn't happen due to a windy evening(Vandegrift won in 4:05.42), but the memories of the event have lasted a lifetime. "

Donal Buckley (Athletic Director/former coach-St.Anthony's H.S.)

"Giant doesn't begin to describe Coach Mike Byrnes. I first became aware of Coach Byrnes the first time I competed at the Nassau (Section 8) County championships indoors in an old airplane hanger at the Mitchell Field (Nassau Community College). He was so intense and loud, it was scary! I went on to compete in the first LIAC Meet of Champions, as well as many summer development meets sponsored by the LIAC at Mepham and Centereach HS. I was honored to be asked by Coach Mike to compete for the LIAC and I won multiple Met AAU titles in the high jump for the club at Randall's Island. Many years later I reconnected with Mike at the Penn Relays. I was so happy to see that something that was so important to me was just as important to him. He always had an encouraging word for me when I passed by him and his cohorts on "the Row". He was a true Friend of the Penn Relays and we have been blessed that he touched all of our lives." C.K. Buddington (Chairman-Friends of the Penn Relays)

"Can't remember where or exactly when I met Mike, but it was quite awhile ago and probably a Jr T/F activity. Each time thereafter, he always greeted me fondly and was so full of energy. I liked being around him and will miss his enthusiasm and ability to make a 5 minute story last at least 30 minutes...."Dixon Farmer (T&F Announcer, 1961 NCAA Champion-440y Hurdles)

Former World Class sprinter Andre Cason posted this on Facebook:

"I am truly saddened...Mike Byrnes was like an Uncle to me. When I was a high school sophomore, he told me that I would be a great sprinter, and to forget what people say about height. I remember when I won the Pathmark Indoor meeting, he told me that I should have run faster, and jumped farther...classic Mr. Byrnes. After every major event that I competed in from high school to Pro, I would always get a phone call from Mike telling me how proud he was of me, and give his 'thoughts as a spectator'. Mike Byrnes is one of the reasons that Andre Cason had a successful Athletics career. My heart goes out to his Family. I will miss you my friend..."
Andre Cason

And from Paul Fetscher
Coach F Mike Byrnes - March 27, 1932 - December 26, 2015
had the pleasure of first meeting Mike Byrnes in 1959. He was Cross Country coach of Wantagh High School, a rival of our Carey High School's His teams could always be counted on to be one of the very best in Nassau County and among the best in New York state.

Mike's teams were the first to run over-distance. Mondays would be a moderate 10 mile run from the high school, down along the Wantagh Parkway path to the Atlantic Ocean and return. Saturdays Mike would hold clinics and workouts for distance runners. The sessions were not only for his team, but open workouts for any distance runner who chose to participate.
I remember one Saturday morning doing endless relays. Six runners were paired by equal speed. One pair would run 100 yards on a straightaway. When the first runner finished 100 yards, the second pair would run back 100 yards, then the third pair when the second finished. When the third pair finished, the first pair started on their second 100 yard run. So if you ran 16 seconds, you would have about 30 seconds rest before running again. So it went until you had completed 10 x 100 yards.

That was the first set. You got a two-minute rest. Then came the second set ... and the third ... and so on until you had completed 10 sets of 10 x 100 yards. THAT was a WORKOUT!

But when the school year was over, running wasn't. Mike organized development meets over the summer. Runners who wanted to stay in shape could always find challenges Wednesday nights at Wantagh High School. Mike made sure we went to Carlson Shoe Imports on Broadway in Manhattan to get the best possible road running shoes, the Adidas Italia.

New York State had three athletic systems. The public schools had the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA). Nassau County was Section 8; Suffolk County Section 11. The top three athletes in each track and field event went on to compete in the State championships. The winner was deemed the State Champion.

However, that didn't account for the New York City Public Schools (PSAL) or the Catholic Schools, the CHSAA. During the indoor track season the top runners got a chance to compete in top indoor meets but there wasn't a true State Championship.
Mike decided that didn't allow the best to compete against the best so he took it upon himself to create The Meet of Champions. He invited the best of the best to compete in an exciting venue - Hofstra University Stadium under the glare of lights. That was the only night time track & field event in the New York Metro area.

Where did all this passion come from? He wasn't just a coach - he was a Runner!

Mike was a 6' 3" distance runner himself back in his native North Carolina. In college cross country, he was a champion. He beat Jim Beatty who went on to become the first runner to break the 4:00 mile indoors.

After his college running career, Mike went on to do his service in the US Army. Then came his position as a teacher at Wantagh High School - and his most valuable position of all: COACH!

In the early 1960's the top running clubs were west coast based:

Bill Bowerman's Emerald Empire AC with Darryl Burleson, Jim Grelle and Bill Dillinger;
Mihaly Igloy's Santa Clara Valley Youth Village with Jim Beatty, Lazlo Tavory, Bob Schul and Norm Higgins;
And the Southern California Striders with Mal Whitfield, Ralph Boston, Rafer Johnson and Max Truex.

Not to be left behind, in 1964 Mike started the Long Island Striders. He packed up the best local distance runners and bought them to the national 25 kilometer championships Milk Run held in conjunction with the 1964 New York World's Fair. There we got to run against some of the best in the nation
That same summer, Mike orchestrated the first road race on Long Island. July 4th, 1964 Mike fired the gun for a four mile run starting on Wantagh Avenue just north of the Sunrise Highway, winding thru residential neighborhoods, and finishing at Wantagh Elementary School. The Wantagh High school marching band struck up their first marching music note at the firing of the start pistol. The runners finished the 4 mile race in front of grandstand throngs awaiting the band to cover their one-mile parade route.
By 1969 Mike formed an alliance with the well healed Long Island Athletic Club benefactors. Their one event of the year was the $100 a plate MVP dinner. Basically that was an award that was styled after the New York Athletic Club's Heisman Trophy. The MVP would be given to the top professional athlete who would actually show up to accept it. Recipients included Terry Metkalf of the St Louis Cardinals, Bobby Nystrom of the NY Islanders and the Buffalo Bill's O. J. Simpson.

By 1971 Mike had forged a relationship with Blue Ribbon Sports, a west coast firm importing Onitsuka running shoes. Mike's car trunk became filled with the blue and white nylon running shoes. He sold them at near cost to the best local runners. Soon his garage got full. Then he had to rent a small second floor office opposite Brands Bicycle on Wantagh Ave. above the starting line of that first Long Island road race.

I was honored when Mike asked me to take over running the Long Island AC in 1971. With the permission of the LIAC, and the encouragement of Mike and Fred Lebow, we started the Long Island Marathon which has evolved to a festival of races that now has over 10,000 participants.

But one thing that stands out in my memory is a simple but heartfelt gesture that meant the world to me. My senior year in high school, I lost my father to ALS. The next day I missed the only race I ever missed in high school or college. It was our cross country meet against Wantagh. That evening a spray of flowers arrived at the funeral home.

"Our victory was hollow without you - Wantagh Cross Country Team"

Now 53 years later, I still cherish that gesture. Mike Byrnes was a class act. I will never forget him.

Fetscher adds:

"When I was a senior in high school, I had an undefeated scheduled track season.

However when we got to the south shores, I lost to an up and coming sophomore, Ron Gustafson - coached by Mike Byrnes at Wantagh High School.

I called Ron to let him know about Mike.

A mere two hours after Mike's death, Ron lost his 92 year old mother.

This afternoon I attended her wake - and saw Ron for the first time in 52 years."

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