Nothing put a bigger smile on Barry Sollenberger's face than seeing full stands at a high school football game. You can bet Sollenberger was looking down Friday and smiling at a full house at Valley Presbyterian Church in Paradise Valley, gathered to say goodbye to Sollenberger, Arizona's foremost historian on prep sports who passed away June 23 on his 60th birthday.
"This is a packed house this morning," said Rev. Tim Smith, "the way Barry liked it."
The funeral service — cut short because so many of his friends and colleagues chose to speak — was a who's who of Arizona sports. Members of the Arizona Interscholastic Association, where Sollenberger worked as the media relations director, were present. So was Arizona State basketball coach Rob Evans as well as several area high school coaches. There were many media members and hundreds who just considered Sollenberger a friend.
"I'm going to miss my friend," said one of the many speakers, George Allen, a longtime Valley radio and television sportscaster.
Sollenberger's athletic and professional life has been well chronicled. A native of Dallas, Sollenberger was a star athlete at Arcadia High in the early 1960s. In fact, in 1964, he set the state decathlon record. That proved to be just the start of his passion for high school sports.
Determined to preserve the state's high school sports history, Sollenberger spent the rest of his life researching the state's high school sports to make sure past accomplishments would not be forgotten. Several schools hired Sollenberger to research their athletic histories. Sollenberger also dealt with the now. In 1970, he started the Phoenix Metro Football magazine, a yearly publication analyzing area high school football teams prior to the season. The publication was considered the bible of high school football.
While there was plenty of discussion about his professional work at the service, much more centered on Sollenberger the person.
"He lived for everyone else," said Harold Slemmer, executive director of the AIA. "He gave up much for others."
Smith called Sollenberger passionate, a protector of the underdog, a celebrator of others and a free spirit.
Other speakers recalled fond memories of trips around the state with Sollenberger where they would stop in some little town and visit the site of a defunct high school.
Included in the service was the reading of a letter from filmmaker Steven Spielberg, a childhood neighbor and friend of Sollenberger's.
After the service, which was filled more with chuckles than tears, Dave Berman, the head of the Scottsdale Quarterback Club, said the group's weekly high school football award would be renamed in his honor.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Barry Sollenberger Historical Sports Foundation, c/o Arizona Interscholastic Association, 7007 N. 18th St., Phoenix, AZ, 85020-5552.