PACE — Pace High School's press box will be renamed the William L. “Billy” Roberts press box after the late Billy Roberts, who announced Pace High games for 29 years.
The Santa Rosa County School Board voted Oct. 17 to take this action after Roberts’ brother, Roy, made the request.
“His faithfulness and dedication coaching Little League players for 10-15 years and for volunteering a total of 29 years every Friday night home football game of the Pace Patriots, without any compensation — and would be doing it again this year if he was alive — is by far beyond reproach,” Roy wrote in a letter to the board’s Facilities Name Committee.
“I knew him for all my life,” Committee Chairman Joey Harrell said. “This was an individual who was committed to the Pace community ... to children from the very young ages all the way to the top ages in athletics, whether it was working at (the Pace Athletic and Recreation Association) coaching baseball, when he didn’t even have a son playing baseball.
"He coached me at 8 or 9 years old … He became a fixture in the Pace community … There were times at the end of his life I can assure you that Mr. Roberts was not feeling very well but he knew his commitment to Pace High School and to the kids out there.”
Billy Roberts would arrive at the press box two to three hours before the game to go over both the Pace and opposing teams’ rosters and practice reading various school announcements scheduled for the night, according to Roy Roberts. Billy didn’t work alone. His brother would help spot games, meaning he would help Billy identify which players scored, tackled and made other plays. Randy Wyrosdick and Ted Russell spotted as well.
“I worked with Billy about 20 years,” Ted Russell said, “up in the press box … We grew up not far apart … He was very easy to get along with. We had such a tremendous amount of fun. We respected each other. He knew a lot about football because he played it. He coached it. He loved doing those games on Friday nights with those kids.”
Billy Roberts coached football, baseball and softball for approximately 35 years. Roberts did so despite a 1973 accident with a train.
“He was an amputee so he’s coaching at the age of 20,” Billy Roberts' son-in-law Josh Wilson said, “with a prosthetic leg many times, without a leg many times.”
“None of us children ever knew him with two legs,” eldest child Tina Howard said, “but it never stopped him. He always had a positive outlook.”
Billy Roberts' second child, Lee Roberts, had the rare experience of having his father announce Pace High games while he played in them. Lee attended Pace High until 1994 and was the football team’s quarterback.
“It was really cool to hear a familiar voice,” Lee said, “a voice that was enthused. He loved Pace High School and the Patriots. Even through the last few years of his life, when his health wasn’t great, he made every effort to be there.”
Lee went on to play for the University of Southern Mississippi after graduating from Pace. His father would announce through the Pace game and then drive all night to see him play.
“He wanted to see me succeed,” Lee said. “He wanted to give me any help and advice. It was extra special to have him in the press box, to hear his voice every time something good happened.”
Billy Roberts’ health declined in the last few years and he depended more on a wheelchair. Rather than find another announcer, the school worked with the district to install an elevator.
“Pace in return built an elevator to go up to the press box when he was wheelchair-bound,” Lee said. “So the feelings were mutual. To him and his family it was huge.
"It allowed him the opportunity to keep going.”