by Sam Blackman
Norman Byrd was one of the early Clemson track stars that led the Tigers to two Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) team championships.
At that time the Tigers were members of the SIAA. The SIAA was a conference that composed of many teams that are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Southeastern Conference. Other teams such as Texas, Texas A&M, and Tulane were also members for a time.
Byrd came to Clemson in 1906 from the small town of Branchville, SC. He was born on August 10, 1888 to parents, J.N. and Alice Byrd.
While at Clemson, he majored in civil engineering and ran track for four years and was captain of the team in 1910. The Clemson yearbook “Taps” humorously stated: “He made himself famous as the only original human airplane in existence. He can run the hundred yards in 10 seconds flat when not frightened. When afraid, he breaks all records.”
While at Clemson, Byrd was on the Clemson Chronicle staff, the Tiger staff, and the Taps yearbook staff. He served as Editor-in-Chief of Taps his senior year.
In 1908, as a sophomore, Byrd finished second in the 220-yard dash and the 440-yard dash at the SIAA meet. He also won the running broad jump with a distance of 20’9.5” at the conference meet. His efforts helped Clemson to a second-place finish behind the meet champion, Vanderbilt. During the spring of 1908, Clemson defeated both Georgia and Georgia Tech in dual meets.
During his junior year (1909), he won the 100-yard dash in 10.20 seconds; the 220 yard-dash in 23 seconds; the 440-yard dash in 52.75 seconds; and the running broad jump at 21’ 5.25”. Because of his effort, the Tigers won the SIAA meet in Nashville, TN on May 15. That year, Clemson finished 4-0 in dual meets, having claimed victories over Georgia Tech, Georgia, North Carolina, and Gordon Institute.
During Byrd’s senior season, the Tigers defeated Georgia Tech 87-21 in the only dual match of the season. However, the highlight of the year was when Clemson played host to the SIAA meet on Bowman Field. Much excitement was in the air, as this was a way to showcase the Clemson campus. Byrd again won the 100-yard dash, with a time of 9.8 seconds; the 440 yard dash in 52 seconds; and the running broad jump at 20’6”.
The Tigers ran away with the meet and finished first with 70 points, while Vanderbilt and Georgia were tied at a distant second-place with 15 points. Georgia Tech was fourth with eight points.
(The 1910 SIAA Champion Clemson Tiger Men’s Track and Field Team is pictured below. Note the student-athlete holding a dog on the front row.)
During his career, Byrd won eight first-place conference individual titles and accumulated 46 points in three SIAA meets for the Tigers, a school career record in this category. He set school and conference records in the 100-yard dash and also set school records in both the 220-yard dash and the broad jump.
Byrd helped make Clemson a track powerhouse in the early part of the 20th century.
After he graduated, Byrd returned to his hometown of Branchville, SC and was a farmer, school teacher, and a merchant. He died on January 6, 1955, in his beloved hometown.
A little known fact about Branchville, SC is that the oldest railroad junction in the world is located there. It is also one of the state’s older established communities. The railroad track use to end at Branchville and this was the end of the “Branch”.
Branchville then became the first railroad junction in the world when the railroad company extended its rails westward on to Hamburg, SC (now Aiken county), across the Savannah River to Augusta, Ga., and to the north track was laid to Orangeburg and Columbia.
During those early days, passenger trains did not carry dining cars and as a result the railroads stopped at selected points on the line to permit passengers time to eat. Three United States Presidents, William H. Taft, William McKinley, and Teddy Roosevelt have stopped by the depot at Branchville, S.C. and ate in the dining room.
Branchville, S.C. has enjoyed much historic significance throughout the years. Including in this rich history is one of its sons, Norman Byrd, running to fame for Clemson in track and field.
October 15, 2021