By Sean McClelland
Dayton Daily News
FAIRBORN, Ohio – Roaming the Nutter Center, microphone in hand, Bill Kirby is as much a staple of Dayton Bombers hockey as chuck-a-puck or Bucky the Flying Squirrel.
After about a decade of entertaining fans with his patented patter, Kirby thought he had seen it all. And then, a couple of years ago, NASCAR icon Rusty Wallace showed up.
Kirby, who was on the ice for the racer’s grand entrance, can’t tell the story without laughing:
“Here comes this big Ford truck, and it’s going all over the place. To the left, then back to the right, then left. I’m thinking, has this guy been partying? Rusty’s sticking out of the sun roof and doesn’t know what’s going on, either.
“I look in and the driver’s on a cell phone. Later I found out he was talking with a buddy at the other end of the rink — getting directions! He couldn’t see because the house lights were down and he was being blinded by spotlights. That he would think to call someone was a stroke of genius!”
Kirby, a Cleveland native who graduated from the University of Dayton in the early 1970s, has been part of many landmark Nutter Center moments, including the Dale Earnhardt Jr. appearance on Jan. 23, 2004, that inspired the building’s largest hockey crowd (10,057).
A licensed pilot who has flown to road games, Kirby was an automotive technician for 30 years and has worked in local radio as a reporter, talk-show host and disc jockey. With the exception of one year, he’s been with the Bombers since they relocated from Hara Arena in 1996.
In his words
“One year I did music, one year giveaways, always something in the stands, except for the first year when I was public-address announcer. I enjoy helping out hockey in this town.
“Some of the season ticket-holders are my closest friends and I wouldn’t have known any of them if not for this. I see Bombers fans all over. There’s a little bar in Lewisburg not far from my house called Grinners and I’ll even run into them there. They’re like, ‘Kirby, what are you doing all the way out here?’
“When I got this job, I studied up on the game and I’ve been a big hockey fan ever since. It’s one of the most athletic games. You’ve got to hit like a football player, have the finesse of a basketball player, be half a boxer and do it all on skates.
“I’ve gotten along good with every one of the owners, but I sure miss (co-founder) Bud Gingher being around. His passing was tough. He’s the one who gave me the chance.
“Going to the finals under (coach) Greg Ireland in 2002 was probably the high point. That whole year was full of highlights. But it’s hard to top the night Earnhardt was here. That mass of Budweiser red in the crowd, just the whole atmosphere. And he was pretty cool.
“I’m getting a little long in the tooth and I can see the time when they’re going to turn a little more toward youth. If that happens, I’m not going to get ticked off or anything. I’m here as long as they want me. I’m having a ball.”