SPOKANE, Wash. — The passion for basketball runs deep for newly retired Gonzaga University professor of accounting Eddy Birrer.
Birrer can still be seen in the Gonzaga recreational building, shooting jump shots during noon ball on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. A knee injury two years ago didn’t separate the 74-year-old competitor from basketball.
Birrer grew up in Billings and graduated from Billings Central in 1962.
He can thank his parents for introducing him to basketball. One year for Christmas, his parents gave him a rubber baseball, basketball and football.
And so it began.
“I started shooting the basketball when I was probably 8 or 9 years old,” Birrer said.
The passion continued to blossom for Birrer, and he went on to play for Billings Central alongside future Major League Baseball pitcher and two-time World Series champion Dave McNally.
McNally was two years older than Birrer, so their time on the court overlapped for a year on varsity.
Birrer said he was more of an assist player than scorer for the Rams.
“The only game where I scored a lot was a non-conference game where I made seven 3-pointers in one half. But I only got 14 points because there was no 3-point line at the time,” he said. “In the second half they decided to guard me.”
Birrer earned a walk-on spot at Carroll College and became a starter his senior year. That season, the Saints advanced to the round of 16 in the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City, Missouri.
Carroll defeated Bethune-Cookman 91-88 in the opening round and then lost to Grambling 95-86. Grambling would go on to take third place.
Despite the distance between Helena and Kansas City, Carroll fans and students still made the journey to support the Saints.
“One thing that was interesting about the game we won, my roommate and a bunch of other guys in Helena, got in their cars and drove non-stop to Kansas City to be on time for the game the next day,” Birrer said.
After graduating from Carroll, Birrer earned a Masters of Business Administration from Gonzaga, but his career would take a few more detours before finally settling in Spokane.
En route to his MBA, Birrer married his high school sweetheart, TerryKay, whom he met in religion class at Billings Central. TerryKay moved to Billings during Eddy’s senior year, and the two had a class together.
“One day in class, Sister (Margaret) Marie said ‘TerryKay there likes simple things’ and TerryKay was sitting in row six and everybody looked over at me in row one,” Birrer said.
Eddy and Terry have been married over 50 years, and raised four kids — Christian, Dory Jane, Jessie Anna, and Jessamyn.
At 24, Birrer passed the certified public accountant exam and accepted a position in Oklahoma to begin his college teaching career.
Birrer taught full-time for the next 16 years at different universities, including Rocky Mountain College and George Mason University in Virginia. He also began to work on a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland. Due to the arrival of twins, Birrer decided to withdraw from the doctoral program at Maryland, and accepted a teaching position at Minnesota State University in Moorhead.
He completed the doctoral program at the University of North Dakota while also teaching 16 to 19 credits per term.
On top of the teaching and Ph.D. coursework, Birrer was a founding member of the Fargo-Moorhead Youth Soccer Association. Over the next eight years, the program grew to include 2,000 kids from across the region.
While at MSUM, Birrer still felt something was missing — he had wanted to teach at a Catholic university in the northwest.
He was offered a position at Gonzaga, but the decision to accept was not easy. However, at Sunday Mass following his interview, Birrer found the Gospel reading meaningful and applicable to his current decision. After hearing the Gospel, Birrer decided to accept the position at Gonzaga.
“It was among the best decisions of my life,” he said.
That was 1984, and last spring Gonzaga hosted a retirement celebration to honor Birrer’s career. A scholarship was also created in Birrer’s name to support future Gonzaga accounting students.
Birrer has enjoyed watching his students succeed, along with getting shots up on the basketball court during noon ball.
Looking back, Birrer summed up his career and path to success.
“Success in achieving one’s goals is not always attained easily; we have to expend the effort necessary to succeed, and at times that requires extraordinary sacrifice," he said.