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Stoetzer: Saying goodbye to Bird Brown with community after a long, sad week | COMMENTARY

My most recent conversation with Bird Brown was through a series of text messages about all-county boys soccer, one of his favorite topics whenever the season was coming to an end.

I started our chat by asking him a question about first-team nominations, and that was all it took to get him going. Is this kid on there at midfield? What about that other defender? Are we sure the goalkeeper had that many saves?

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We’ve debated those things in years past. This time, Bird went to bat for a player from another team to make sure he appeared on the coaches’ ballot.

(Don’t worry Bird, he made first-team all-county.)

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I never would have imagined that was going to be the last time he and I spoke. And I’m sure there are hundreds of others from our community who have been feeling that way since April 26, when Bird died unexpectedly early that morning.

The past week has been tough, to say the least.

Nobody cared more about Westminster High School and its athletic program. Nobody cared more about promoting youth soccer in the area. And I’m certain there aren’t too many who cared more about the importance of family. Just seeing him around Anne, his wife of more than 30 years, or any of his three sons, Michael, Ryan, and Matt, was all anyone needed for confirmation.

Bird made you feel like part of his family when you were around him.

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Westminster High School boys coach Robert "Bird" Brown works with campers during the Ed DeVincent youth soccer camp at Liberty High School in Eldersburg on July 28, 2015.
Westminster High School boys coach Robert "Bird" Brown works with campers during the Ed DeVincent youth soccer camp at Liberty High School in Eldersburg on July 28, 2015. (DAVE MUNCHSTAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

When he joined the Times in 2006 as our recreational sports writer and a weekly columnist, Bird did his best to get all of the county’s rec leagues and organizations on our list of tryouts and registrations that appeared in Sunday’s sports section. He put together briefs and roundups whenever a local team or a young athlete had an achievement to promote. And he used his column, which he called Bird at Play, to opine on plenty of hot topics pertaining to sports.

Before too long, Bird was championing the cause for Carroll County to join its neighbors and have turf fields installed at high schools. Or at any Carroll County park. Or in his backyard, if it would fit.

(Speaking of which, whenever the time comes and Carroll has its turf fields, the first one needs to be named after Bird. Someone with power, please don’t forget that.)

He took a break during the pandemic, but Bird agreed to come back to write Sunday columns and bolster the sports section. It was his turn today. I hope I’m filling the space accordingly.

He didn’t come into the office much after the first few of his 15 years with us, as other professional endeavors crowded his calendar. But when he did, it always came with a smile, a few jokes, a recap of some local sporting event, and questions about how our day or week had been to that point.

He had story ideas, and rec sports announcements, and he took part for years in our weekly Sports Roundtable feature that gained a lot of interest (or was that notoriety?) in its time.

When he became varsity soccer coach (girls and then boys) at Westminster, and eventually a business teacher at the school, Bird was in his element. And yet he still found time to stay involved with travel soccer, promote the Baltimore Celtic Soccer Club or Westminster Wolves, and enjoy himself whenever he could.

I find it fitting that one of the last things Bird shared on social media was a post regarding club soccer tryouts. And just before that, he let people know of a local restaurant looking for employees, seeing as how Bird’s new gig at Westminster High was as its Career Connections coordinator.

I attended a few Ravens games over the years with Bird and his fanatic football crew, if only for the tailgating experience they put together at almost every home game. Infamous tales from the “Grassy Knoll” parking lot were realized, and when Bird introduced you to his close friends it felt as if you’d known them for just as long.

Hat. Skeeter. Yorty. Bomber. Mookie. And many, many more. They’re all feeling the pain of not having Bird around anymore.

I know Bird would have appreciated how the community came together to honor him on short notice earlier in the week. Westminster’s Ruby Field, where Bird once played and coached the game he loved, was crowded with students, teachers, school officials, parents, and friends for a candlelight vigil that was nothing short of beautiful. Some Grateful Dead tunes played over the public address system, a nice touch to hear Bird’s favorite band jamming.

A love of music may have rivaled Bird’s love for everything else. Particularly live music ― he didn’t have to, but many times Bird would find a way to be there when my fiancée’s band had a gig somewhere in Westminster, with Anne by his side, to relax for a few hours on a Saturday night.

Little things like that are what make a loss like this felt by so many people in the community.

A memorial gathering in honor of Robert "Bird" Brown was held at Westminster High School Tuesday evening, April 27, 2020 to remember the popular Westminster High School counselor, coach and teacher who passed away unexpectedly Monday.
A memorial gathering in honor of Robert "Bird" Brown was held at Westminster High School Tuesday evening, April 27, 2020 to remember the popular Westminster High School counselor, coach and teacher who passed away unexpectedly Monday. (Dylan Slagle)

Bird always ended his sports columns with a motivational quote or thought from an author or celebrity or world figure. I’ll do the same here, in honor of Bird, and borrow from author Rob Liano: “The sorrow we feel when we lose a loved one is the price we pay to have had them in our lives.”

So thank you, Anne and the boys, for sharing Bird with us. It was an honor to work alongside him, and to be able to call him a friend.

And it’s comforting to know I’m not the only one who feels that way.

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