After more than four decades earning a living, Don Byers is heading back to school. And he's taking his golf clubs with him.
Byers has enrolled at Nebraska's Bellevue University, where he will also be a member of the school's golf team in 2018. And at 61, the Omaha resident will become one of the oldest college athletes in history.
"Nobody believes me, they all laugh," Byers told WOWT 6 News recently. "Then when they find out it's for real they say go on your bucket list, live your dream."
It's for real, and so is Byers' golf game. The 1-handicapper has the length to keep up with his much (much) younger teammates, according to his new coach, Rob Brown. And God help the rest of the North Star Athletic Association if the Bruins ever host a BINGO night.
But seriously, this is a neat story for a man who once saw his dreams of playing college athletics vanish when as a pitcher, he suffered an arm injury that caused him to lose his scholarship and drop out of school. In the 40-plus years since, Byers has built a successful insurance business in Nebraska, but now he'll have a chance to fulfill his dream of earning a college degree while competing on the course.
Byers' unusual playing career is allowed because Bellevue plays in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA). Under NCAA rules, once someone enrolls as a full-time student, they only have five years to complete their four years of playing eligibility. In 2011, another 61-year-old, Alan Moore, made headlines for kicking an extra point for Faulkner University's (also in the NAIA) football team. But Byers has the chance to be a more integral part of his team.
"I just see a great golfer and an outstanding athlete," said Brown, who met Byers through a chance round of golf over the summer. "He knows the game, has incredible hitting power, and shows finesse on the greens. We're fortunate to have recruited him."
Byers could compete for Bellevue as early as March when the team travels to Las Vegas for a tournament. It's a place where some of his teammates might be particularly jealous of the age on his driver's license.
"So I've got a family, a business, and grandkids," Byers said. "It's a little different than your normal college student."