College basketball: Meet Bryce Weiler, the do-it-all broadcaster who happens to be blind
On the Leathernecks Sports Network, Western Illinois was pulling away. Bryce Weiler, a graduate student working the broadcast as an analyst, was helping describe the surge.
"Swish," he said of a jumper that went in. "Too short,'" he mentioned, of a free throw that clanged away. He related a quick story of how this is the 30th year of the 3-pointer in college basketball, and Rick Pitino used it that first season to get upstart Providence to the Final Four.
Oh, did we mention Bryce Weiler is blind? Has been since he was born four months too early, 25 years ago. Something called Retinopathy of prematurity.
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"I can't analyze how a player should have held his arm better to shoot a 3-pointer, or how he should have moved his feet more properly for a charging call,'' he would say later. "But I can make up for that."
"He studies what teams will do, what they're really good at," Kornberg said. "He's always reaching out to various coaches. He's got a really good idea from A, studying, and B, because he's such a good listener to both what I am saying and what's happening on the floor. He's able to pick up the game almost as if he's seeing it.
"The biggest thing when you're broadcasting is credibility. I honestly don't think most people know he's blind when he's on the air."
Determination, research, work. Most of all, just loving the game. Weiler is on the computer daily, finding every tidbit, factoid and angle he can.
"My computer talks to me. Want to hear it talk?" he said over the phone from his dorm room.
So he pulled up a story and the computer voice started chattering in double time, like a tape recorder playback set on high speed. That way, he can hear more stories in fewer minutes.
And he can always call one of the names on his long list of heavyweight coaching connections. One day a Pitino, who gave Weiler a Louisville championship ring from 2013. Another day a Brad Stevens, who once stood under the basket and clapped, so Bryce would know where the basket was as he shot free throws.
One thing a guy learns when he can't see is the value of the spoken word. So Weiler is not afraid to call a single soul. Athletic directors, coaches, the NBA commissioner. Anyone got the number for the White House? President Barack Obama will be filling out his NCAA Tournament bracket soon.
"I really enjoy talking about college basketball," Weiler said. "And while I can't always make it to all the places I want to get to, I can always call someone."
Pitino, for instance.
"Many have to overcome their handicaps. Bryce's is quite severe, but he hasn't let it get him down in his pursuit of being involved in sports," the Louisville coach said.
"And that's what I admire the most about him."
This love affair with a game started when Bryce was growing up in Illinois, listening to such Midwestern play-by-play stalwarts as Indiana's Don Fischer and Illinois' Brian Barnhart. "They could really bring pictures of the game to life for me," he said.
So he went to the University of Evansville for his undergrad years, and worked several Aces games. Now he is a graduate student in sports management at Western Illinois, and while on the air for only a handful of contests, the resolve has not waned.
Bryce Weiler wants a job. He understands the odds of being on the radio. "I know it will be harder for me since I cannot see. I cannot do play by play, and most of the analyst jobs go to former players and coaches." But surely, there must be a door that can open out there for some task. That's why he has sent an email to university presidents and sports teams across the continent.
"I know that although I might never be able to live my ultimate dream of being able to see, I can still impact others' lives," the email reads.
"I typed it in all different ways in Google, and the only articles I found are about blind broadcasters," he said. "I'm sure there are plenty of other blind people who are doing great things in sport and life."
But so far, nothing much promising has come back in answer to his email.
In a dark world, where words have to matter, Weiler is direct, about himself, and his journey. Such as the idea of leisure time.
"I don't want to go on vacations. What's the point? I can't see the beaches of Hawaii."
Or the idea his story is inspiring.
"I don't think my story is that inspiring because I do it every day."
Or the reason why so many coaches return his calls.
"Maybe if I could see, they wouldn't be talking to me. But if I could see, maybe I'd be playing college basketball myself, or baseball or football. Who knows how my life would be different if I could see? I don't think I would have as deep of a value and understanding of the people helping me every day."
Somewhere in his room are slices of nets Louisville cut down back in 2012 and '13. On his finger is the 2013 ring. "We were in constant communication during that season,” Pitino said. "He said Brad Stevens promised him a championship ring if Butler ever won the national championship. I told him, 'You have my commitment that if we win it here at Louisville, you'll get your championship ring.'"
Weiler still remembers the exact date it arrived -- Dec. 30, 2013.
"It really means a lot to me. It's something I thought I would never be able to have since I cannot see and cannot play sports. I always put it on before I pick up my cane in the morning, because putting on my championship ring makes me think of all the obstacles I overcame in my life, people not believing that I could commentate sports on the radio, being fortunate enough to sit on the basketball bench at Evansville, being able to do some of these things at Western, the students who have helped me out."
He'll be on the air with Kornberg for a Western Illinois men's-women's doubleheader Thursday, which is why he's working the phones this week with coaches, getting ready.
"I really admire him never backing down from his dreams," Kornberg said. "He's always trying to fight that stigma that he can't do this. He's fighting for his love and his passion."
He can be found on wrmsfm.com Thursday night, if you want to hear something you don't hear every day.
"I've already lived some of the dreams of my life," he said. "I have a championship ring. I've been able to sit on a basketball bench. I have pieces of net from a championship, and most importantly, I have people who care about me, and I just want to give back.
"Hopefully, somebody will give me a chance."