Sunday, February 25, 2024

Meet the Breslin Center's conductor, Barry Greer

March 9, 2023
MSU Basketball superfan Barry Greer poses for a photo on Feb. 21, 2023.
MSU Basketball superfan Barry Greer poses for a photo on Feb. 21, 2023. —
Photo by Jonah Brown | The State News

The Breslin Center. There aren’t many places like it in college basketball. 

On gameday, "the Bres" comes alive, filled by the residents of East Lansing and the students of Michigan State. 

The sights and sounds of the games are essentially cyclical. Throughout the match, the ever-raucous Izzone roars while the band blasts out a catchy tune, combining for a cacophony of sounds contained only by the ceilings and walls of the Breslin. MSU head men's basketball coach Tom Izzo hurls some choice words at the refs (and occasionally his players). A group of tight-knit, highly talented athletes play their hearts out on the court in front of a rowdy crowd. 

Amongst that general chaos, one can always find Barry Greer. He’s hard to miss. Every game day, he’ll find his place at the front of the band, waving his arms to the beat and directing the musicians. 

For over 30 years, Barry has been Breslin's conductor. 

The conductor 

JB_BBall.SuperFan_04
MSU Basketball superfan Barry Greer leads the band on Feb. 21, 2023.

Barry’s path to conducting began back in the Jud Heathcote era. 

The Greers were a sporty family, often involved activities that had something to do with a ball. Even camping trips would descend into wiffle ball games, with half the campground joining in.

The Greers were also huge Michigan State fans. Lee Greer, a longtime Lansing resident, especially loved Spartan basketball; he’s had season tickets since 1981.  It was Lee that introduced his son, Barry, to basketball.

Barry started tagging along with his father to MSU games at four-years-old. Heeding the advice of a doctor, Lee initially brought Barry as a therapy of sorts. The basketball games were a way to provide both social and mental stimulation to Barry, who was diagnosed with down syndrome.  

Barry quickly took interest in the spectacle, and the father-son duo began regularly attending together. From the start, Barry was mesmerized by the band, watching the director swing his arms and musicians blast away on their instruments. For the next two years, Lee offered to take his son down to meet the band, but each time, Barry turned him down. 

“Finally, when he was six, he said yes,” Greer said. “By then half our section was cheering because they knew I’d been trying to get him to go down there.” 

Lee and Barry made their way to the band, where they met the marching band director, John. T. Madden. 

“This is Barry, he’d really like to meet the band,” Greer said to Madden. “John just said ‘Hey Barry, we’re going to play a song for you,’ and they played Dominoes. That was his song.”  

So the band struck up the song, and the ever-observant Barry began mimicking Madden’s conducting motions, moving his hands to the beat of the song and guiding his instrumentalists.  

“Barry had obviously been studying what John does, because he had gone over and was just directing away,” Greer said. 

So at six-years-old, Barry found himself conducting Michigan State’s marching band, and a tradition was born. Madden told Lee that Barry was welcome to come down to direct his song anytime he was in attendance. The offer was gladly accepted. 

For about a year, Barry would head on down to the band and act as the conductor for Domino. However, directing that one song quickly turned into much more. After that first year, Barry was heading down to the band before games and after games. Eventually, he was conducting the band from the start of the game to the finish. 

“John knew it was kind of like music therapy,” Greer said. “Barry was interacting with kids - he knew it was great for Barry. It was also great for the band; they were interacting with him and they could see that he was having a blast.” 

He’s been going strong for 31 years, outlasting both Madden (who retired in 2017) and Heathcote. When David Thornton took over as director of the band, the tradition continued. And Barry is not one to shirk duty. He has rarely missed games in his time as conductor. 

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Back in January, Barry was scheduled for a surgery to correct a hearing issue. The problem? It was scheduled for Jan. 6 - a day before Michigan State’s home game against Michigan. 

Lee knew Barry couldn’t stomach missing a game like that, so he called up the doctor and had the appointment re-scheduled. The marching band needed its conductor. 

“He really believes that he’s got to be there for his team,” Greer said. “There’s nobody that bleeds green more than him.” 

For a stretch, Barry missed a few games thanks to the occasional Special Olympics event. Barry is an athlete himself, earning over 30 medals at Special Olympics events through his playing career. The father-son duo played basketball and softball together for years. To this day, Lee and Barry make their way to the basketball court a few times a week for some early-morning hooping sessions. 

The Brotherhood of Barry

Barry has met some pretty special figures during his time as the conductor of MSU’s marching band. “The Brotherhood of Barry” is an elite circle, filled with the likes of Izzo, Mateen Cleaves and a handful of other MSU basketball legends. 

However, it would be inaccurate to describe Barry’s interactions with Spartan athletes as a basic “meet and greet.” Just keep an eye on him after a game at the Breslin: former players in attendance making a point of greeting the conductor. Shaking hands, exchanging hugs - there’s truly a bond formed between Barry and the players. 

“It’s not a matter of him meeting everybody, it’s like everybody there knows him,” Greer said. “It doesn’t matter how big they are.” 

Even NBA star and former Spartan Draymond Green sought out Barry in his return to East Lansing. After watching his jersey ascend to the rafters of the Breslin, Green made sure to head over to the conductor and greet his old friend. 

“When the alumni come back, it’s like a welcome home party for Barry,” Greer said. 

Barry doesn’t wait until players depart to make his connections. As soon as basketball season starts, new players meet Barry and begin their entry into the brotherhood, offering high-fives, knuckles and the occasional hug. After the game, Barry and Lee sometimes make their way to the innards of the Breslin and wait outside the locker room, becoming even closer with the players and their families. 

“When these young guys come in as freshmen, they’re courteous, they shake his hand, and by the time they graduate, they’re buddies,” Greer said. 

Currently, Barry's favorite player is fifth-year senior forward Joey Hauser. One can hear his shouts of “Cmon, Joey!” and other words of encouragement for Hauser throughout the game. It’s no coincidence that Barry wears Hauser’s No. 10 while playing basketball in a unified league at MSU. 

While he mostly finds himself befriending the Spartan hoopers, Barry's MSU connections aren’t limited to the basketball court. Back in 2011, he happened to meet current NFL quarterback and Michigan State alumnus Kirk Cousins while conducting. 

“He told me he met a new friend. That’s not uncommon for Barry, he meets people all the time,” Greer said. “We were walking back towards the locker room and here comes Kirk. So Kirk walks up to me and says ‘Hey, are you Barry’s dad?’ I’m like, yeah, and he says ‘This is my new friend Barry.’” 

Cousins, at that time the team’s senior quarterback, invited Barry and Lee to a game against Central Michigan. After watching a 45-7 MSU victory over the Chippewas, Cousins took the duo into the locker room to meet with the team and celebrate the victory. Prominent athletes on campus have a knack of forging their way into the “Brotherhood of Barry”. 

The thing is, one doesn’t have to be a basketball player or celebrity to befriend Barry. Everyone from the journalists covering the game, to members of the marching band and fans in attendance have entered the “brotherhood”. Whether it's asking for a score prediction, offering a fist bump or just a friendly smile, Barry has an undeniable charisma about him. It’s hard not to become quick friend’s with the Breslin’s conductor. 

“His social skills are phenomenal, and it’s all because of what he’s allowed to do at MSU,” Greer said. “Not many kids get the opportunity to do what he’s been able to do.” 

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