Several hundred people stood on or around an outlined heart holding their candles in the air in the center of Ruby Field at Westminster High School. It was to remember Robert “Bird” Brown, a prominent Westminster High coach and staff member who died unexpectedly Monday morning.
Brown, 58, coached soccer and lacrosse at the high school, where he graduated in 1980. He was also a prominent, longtime youth soccer coach.
A few senior boys soccer players took it upon themselves to organize a vigil after they heard about the passing of their coach.
“The amount of people that are here are a reflection of the amount of people he touched,” said Danny Dergham, one of Brown’s high school and Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club members.
He and his teammates said Brown was the type of coach who cared more about the individual player than the game. Noah Roche, fellow high school and club teammate, said he cared for every single one of them and gave every player a chance. Dergham added that Brown was “a player’s coach” and changed the lives of every player who played for him. Teammate Alex Ruth said he made the soccer program feel like a family.
“He was such like a bright light in so many people’s lives,” said Cameron Doolan, another Westminster soccer player. “I never want to play for any other coach.”
Brown taught business classes at Westminster High before helping students with career-building. After graduating from high school, he earned a B.A. in sociology from Coker College and an MBA from Mount St. Mary’s University.
He started the Westminster Wolves Soccer Club back in 1985, coached the Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club team and was a part-time sports writer and columnist for the Carroll County Times.
Brown just finished his seventh season as Westminster’s boys soccer coach and his career record was 54-45-5. His team won the county championship in 2016 and he reached a regional final with the Owls girls soccer team in 2013. From 2010 to 2013, his overall record with the girls was 29-27-4.
Common themes for those who remembered Brown were how many lives he touched and his impact on Carroll County.
Mark Bayline was a close friend of Brown’s and knew him for over 40 years. The two were inseparable, he said, and they were in each other’s weddings.
He said Brown was a big pusher in sports. He pushed people, like Bayline, to try out for teams and he pushed the county for a turf field.
“I’m sorry he’s not going to be around to see the athletic fields changed,” he said. “Bird really pushed for it more than anyone I’ve ever known.”
Terry Molloy, Westminster High School’s athletic director, said he’s known Brown for 30 years and called him a dear friend. They spent about a dozen years as teammates on the Westminster Wolves soccer team.
When the school needed a new girls soccer coach, Brown came on board. He later became the boys varsity soccer coach and also the boys junior varsity lacrosse coach. He loved working with the kids so much, Molloy said he became certified to start teaching at the school.
John Baugher, Westminster principal, said Brown put people at ease and called him one of the most caring individuals he ever met. Brown was fun, loving, hardworking and made friends wherever he went, Baugher added.
He was the senior adviser for the class of 2019 and he talked about the dash of life and how important it is.
“Bird lived that dash,” Baugher said. “He influenced people everywhere he went in a positive manner.”
After being a business teacher, Brown became the school’s career connection coordinator and helped students receive internships. Baugher said he was given that position because of his many connections in the county.
Nicki James, a junior, was one of those students. “It’s definitely hard going into my senior year without my mentor,” she said at Tuesday’s vigil.
Brown stepped into the role as adviser for the Class of 2021 after the previous adviser left, Baugher said. Brown was scheduled to give a speech during this year’s graduation.
Allison Edgar, department chair of the high school’s business and marketing department, said she’s known Brown since she was in middle school. He hung out with her older sister’s group of friends and she was the “annoying tag-along.”
“As fate had it, years later, he came in for an interview for a position in my department,” she said about the business teacher position.
Edgar described his style as “unconventional but very effective.” It was different from the status quo but his students always scored high on the business and marketing tests in comparison to other schools in the county.
To add on to the list of teacher, high school coach, and community soccer coach, Brown was also a rec sports writer and columnist at the Carroll County Times. Bob Blubaugh, editor of the Times, said back when they were hiring for the position in 2006, he was probably one of the few people in the county who did not know Brown. But after one conversation, he felt like he did.
“He wrote some great columns for us over the years, but that was a fraction of what he did for the community,” he said. “I can’t even imagine how many young people became better athletes and, more important, better people because of him.”
Pat Stoetzer, sports editor for the Times, not only worked with Brown, but was his friend for the past 15 years.
“The phrase ‘larger than life’ gets used more than it should, but I can’t think of Bird without thinking of those words,” he said. “It’s no surprise to see the amount of people in this county and beyond who have been affected by his unexpected death.”
Brown’s last column for the Times was about making it through the sports seasons during the pandemic. Toward the end, his parting words were a few pointers to the spring sports athletes and coaches: follow the protocols, stay home if sick, isolate if exposed, communicate to those necessary, don’t be selfish and “understand that you too will face some adversity this season either on or off the field. The key is to be resilient in your approach.”
The family is welcoming friends to St. John Catholic Church in Westminster from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday. A funeral mass will be held Saturday ― Brown’s birthday ― at 1 p.m. with a eulogy beginning at 12:45 p.m. For those who are unable to attend, the service will be livestreamed on the church’s Facebook page.