Seeing sports the Weiler way

Erika Ward

Watching sports is a pastime that most people enjoy.  Western Illinois University graduate student Bryce Weiler, however, watches sports in an entirely different way.

 Weiler was born premature and suffers from a condition known as Retinopathy, which has made him blind. However, he doesn’t allow this to hinder his love for sports, though, and he strives to inspire others through his perseverance.

 Weiler does not only “watch” sports, he commentates on them.

 Originally from Claremont, Illinois, Weiler attended the Indiana School for the Blind high school.  After graduating, Weiler attended the University of Evansville to pursue his undergraduate degree in sports management and sports communication. 

 While attending Evansville, Weiler had multiple friends who would eat meals with him and help him get around campus.  According to Weiler, this hasn’t always been the case at Western.

 “It’s hard to find people to eat with me,” Weiler said.  “It’s been a little bit more difficult here.  People don’t always show up when they say they will.”

 Over the 2014 winter break, Weiler even sent emails to girls with his two favorite names:  Brookes and Haleys.  To his disappointment, none of them responded.  However his luck changed a few weeks ago when he met Hailey Davis, a recreation, park and tourism management major, a few weeks ago.  The two have since become quite close.

 While attending Evansville, Weiler sat on the bench with the basketball team during games.  From there, he started expanding his focus.  He began to guess the email systems for professional sports to get in contact with coaches from a variety of different areas.  Weiler even counted out the number of phone numbers he has in his phone’s contacts.

 “Two-hundred sixteen out of 687 (contacts) are coaches of some form,” Weiler said.  “Baseball, soccer, basketball, college basketball, NFL or college football.”

 Not only does he have the phone numbers and emails of these professional coaches, he works at cultivating personal relationships with them.  One of his most well known relationships is with the University of Louisville’s basketball coach, Rick Pitino.

 Pitino made a promise to Weiler: if Louisville won the NCAA Championship, he would send Weiler a championship ring.  Pitino made good on this promise and sent Weiler a personalized championship ring as well as a piece of the championship net for Weiler to add to his collection.

 After graduating from the University of Evansville with his undergraduate degree, Weiler began attending Western to pursue his graduate degree in sports management. 

“I hope to be able to commentate more games next year,” Weiler said.  “Whether it’s with the opposing teams’ radio broadcasters, hopefully getting to do some more Western Illinois games with the home broadcasters, while also continuing to do more things throughout the athletic department.”

Commentating his 98th game on Wednesday, Weiler worked with Joe Pott from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to broadcast the game to SIUE’s radio station.  The two bantered back and forth.  Weiler, although unable to see the game, could hear it.  Weiler could be in the middle of speaking and throw into the end of his sentence, whether the pitch was a ball or strike.

Weiler is able to commentate on games because there are generally two sports commentators, one to give a play-by-play and another to talk about statistics. Weiler is the statistical partner.

Before every game, Weiler commentates and translates statistics about the teams into braille.

“I have a Perkins Braille writer that I braille out the information on,” Weiler said. “Then I use the information, and I read it, and I have to memorize it because sometimes the microphones can pick up the sounds of my hands running over the paper.”

The machine works in a seemingly complex way.

“So, there are six keys,” Weiler said. “There’s three keys to each side of the cell.  The six keys make up, through different combinations, the 26 letters of the alphabet along with 128 contractions that can be used to shorten words such as ‘can,’ ‘could,’ ‘do’ and ‘but,’ so you don’t have to type all those letters.” 

Weiler also prepares for commentating by listening to the previous games that both the offensive and defensive teams played, in order to get an idea about how they are doing this season.  He also speaks to coaches and players before the games, not only to learn about the way the players and coach think, but to learn about them as people and talk about their qualities on the air.

“Sometimes younger broadcasters get so caught up in saying when a player was drafted or their batting average in the last 10 games,” Weiler said.  “But what really sticks in the mind of a fan, or someone listening to the game, is the personal stories that a commentator might share about being able to spend time with a player or a coach.”

Weiler said he enjoys trying to show fans that there is more to sports and the players than what  fans are often able to see.

“It shows the fans that while their student athletes are players (and) are trying to be successful on the field or the court, they’re also taking time to be a good person, which is more important than any victory in a game,” Weiler said. 

Weiler’s dream in life is something that is often taken for granted:  He hopes to one day see.

“I’m going to go to my eye doctor in the summer of 2016, and they’re going to put a fiber-optic cable into my right eye to see how much light I can actually see,” Weiler said.  “If that light is at a high enough level, then there’s a chance they could implant a microchip that could give me some vision.”

Weiler hopes to encourage others not to take the little things in life for granted.

“(I want to) show fans, players and coaches that there’s more important things in life than just winning games through my actions, while also trying to inspire others (by) letting them know that they’re living my dream of being able to see,” he said.