Neil Zimmerman is stepping down as baseball coach at William Byrd after six seasons. He made the announcement last week with the end of the season baseball banquet scheduled for this week.
“It’s just time,” said Zimmerman. “I have a couple kids and they’re getting older. They’re playing sports and I’ve missed a lot already. I didn’t want to have to choose between baseball and my kids, because if I have to choose I’m going to choose the kids.”
Neil leaves with a six season record of 72-59. That actually covers seven years, as the 2020 season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The team finished 11-4 in an abbreviated 2021 season, losing in the Region 3D finals to Abingdon in a 2-1 walk-off victory for the Falcons.
Byrd graduated 11 seniors this year. Among the highlights of Zimmerman’s tenure was an upset win over Liberty Christian Academy, the favorite to win the state, in the 2018 regionals when Byrd fielded a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores. That group was 27-11 in the past two seasons while missing out on the 2020 campaign.
Zimmerman leaves behind a resume few can match in the storied Byrd baseball program. He grew up playing for outstanding youth teams in Vinton and was a sophomore on the 1997 state championship Terrier team. After graduating in 1999 he played four years at Ferrum College.
Neil started coaching when Anthony Amos asked Zimmerman and Steve Sizemore to help on the Byrd team of middle school players that was not sanctioned by the school. He continued when the school took over the middle school program, then assisted Sizemore on the Byrd varsity team when Steve was named head coach. He also assisted Chris Carr with the varsity and served as jayvee coach before accepting the job as head coach prior to the 2015 season. If you cut him, he’d bleed maroon and orange.
“I’ve been here for a long time,” he said. “After a while it becomes part of you. I’m not sure how I’m going to feel this fall and next spring when I’m not a part of this baseball program anymore. It will be strange, but I’ll be here to help on the field or with whatever the new coach needs me for.”
The Byrd baseball program is like very few in the high school ranks. Former coach Gary Walthall maintains a roster of former players he periodically e-mails with information on the team and the lives of past and current players. It truly is a big family.
“You have to realize when you take this job you’re not just getting 40 players,” said Zimmerman. “You’re also getting 30 years of guys who want to be involved with the program. It’s something that will always be in your blood and I’m just glad I’ve been able to play a small part in it.”