BELLEVUE, Neb. – Sixty-one-year-old Don Byers was just looking to get in a round of golf at Champions Run, his favorite hometown course. Instead, he's now on course to join the Bellevue University Bruins men's golf team and become one of the nation's oldest college athletes.
According to Bruins' Men's Golf Coach Rob Brown, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA), the national governing body that Bellevue University is a member of, and the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) conference which the Bruins compete in, don't keep age stats and that's okay. "I just see a great golfer and an outstanding athlete," said Brown. "He knows the game, has incredible hitting power, and shows finesse on the greens. We're fortunate to have recruited him." Byers will join a Bruins golf team lineup that includes players from Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, and Nebraska. NAIA eligibility rules do not include age limitations like the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Also, NAIA student-athletes are not governed by the NCAA's "five-year clock" that says athletes have five calendar years in which to play four seasons of competition and the one-year grace period after high school graduation.
By all published accounts, Byers will be among the oldest college athletes in the United States in recent history. Other older athletes include a 61-year-old field goal kicker for NCAA Division III Faulkner University in 2011; a 43-year-old men's basketball player for Division III Geneva College in 2012-13; a 49-year-old female swimmer for Division I Pepperdine University; and perhaps the best known, 39-year-old wide receiver Tim Frisby – nicknamed "Pops" – who walked on and played for the Division I South Carolina Gamecocks in 2004-05.
Academically, Byers is finding a fit at Bellevue University, too. He's enrolling in several classes for the spring 2018. "When it comes to meeting the needs of adult learners and non-traditional students, including our student-athletes, Bellevue University is one of the best institutions in the country," said Ed Lehotak, Athletic Director at Bellevue University. Byers for one is excited to make progress towards his bachelor's degree – something the successful married father and grandfather, and founder of Byers Insurance Agency wasn't able to do earlier in life. "I thought it wasn't in the cards for me," said Byers, "But everyone at Bellevue (University) has been great and really supportive of me as a 'non-traditional' student-athlete." "My teammates have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and that has been greatly appreciated."
Byers transferred credits he earned previously and was able to apply them toward his bachelor's degree at Bellevue University. Bellevue University has been recognized recently by Washington Monthly and Forbes as one of America's best colleges for adult learners, and by Phi Theta Kappa as one of the best institutions for transfer students.
According to Byers, an added bonus to that round of golf that led to a change in his life's course is that his son is now thinking about returning to school and finishing his college education. "I love the game of golf," Byers said, "but I love my family more and there's nothing better than seeing them succeed in life."
About Bellevue University
Founded in 1966, Bellevue University is a non-profit, fully accredited university with more than 50,000 graduates worldwide. The University is a recognized national leader in preparing students for lifelong success with career-relevant knowledge and skills while making college affordable. Routinely ranked among the nation's top military-friendly and open access institutions, the University serves students at its main campus in Bellevue, Nebraska, and everywhere online. The University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission through the U.S. Department of Education.
- Story courtesy of Chris Hay-Merchant, Director, Bellevue University Strategic Communications