When an individual man accepts the responsibility of coaching a team, he has established himself as the leader. He has also made the commitment to put forth every ounce of effort into winning. Inspiring greatness within his followers, a coach encourages his athletes to reach for the greatness within their selves. Inspiring the seemingly unreachable, a great coach insists on going beyond one’s expectations to reach goals of tremendous magnitude that once seemed to be impossible.
But in the end a coach can do this and only this. The coach can’t play for the players. A former teammate and lifelong friend once told me, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make the horse drink.” Ultimately, the players will to win, and their refusal of the acceptance of mediocrity, will determine the outcome at the end of each season.
Roughly three years ago around this time, I had just finished up my first varsity football season 0-10. Though I had been part of the team, I never touched the field on Friday nights as a sophomore. A new and unfamiliar coach was brought in during the off season to attempt to turn the program around. This is when I first encountered whom I believe to be the ultimate motivator, and one of the most passionate men I have ever met in my life, Mike Barrett.
I will never forget one of the first conversations I had with Coach Barrett. We talked about work ethic, and what it takes to become a winner in the beloved game of football. More importantly we talked about school, family, and life in general. It was from this first impression and onward that I learned that this man would be much more than a coach who would be teaching us the X’s and O’s in preparation for that first Friday night under the lights. You see, although he was preparing us for the game of football, he was also continually preparing us for an even bigger game, the game of life.
Yes Coach Barrett was hired as a football coach, and if I were to guess what his goal was at the time of his initial hiring I would have to say it’d be to win as many games as possible, but what was his purpose going to be? In my eyes he wanted to do more than win games. Coach strived to help prepare men for lives that would be meaningful well after football.
In order to succeed in this manner, time and time again he would preach to his players about the ethics and morals of life. It would be impossible for me to count how many times we were lectured on building a resilient work ethic, acquiring good grades in school, and building strong relationships with family members and the community we lived in. In addition to these lectures, he’d preach about leadership, commitment, and pride. One of the main notions he attempted to ingrain in each and every one of his players was the simple idea of doing the right thing.
Coach had many great sayings (I wish I had compiled a list over the time period in which I played for him although this would be a very long list) and one of those sayings went something along the lines of, “What’s popular isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always popular.” This is a quote I live my life by to this day and will continue to use a guiding tool.
When the flood hit local communities such as Jenkins Twp. and Duryea in the fall of 2011, several players and even a fellow coach were affected. I got notification that practice would be put on hold for a couple and days and we would turn our efforts towards the aid in cleanup of “family” and local towns. I say family because that’s exactly what Coach Barrett wanted us to think of our fellow teammates, community, and coaches. We were all one big family and we were in it together no matter what.
When I first arrived on the scene of the flood site I spotted a man covered in mud with a power washer in his hands cleaning out the garage of a fellow coach. This man covered in filth was Coach Barrett. He truly practiced what he preached in showing that we were a family, and if any player or coach of his needed help, he’d drop whatever he was doing and go out of his way in order to offer his assistance.
“If all goes wrong in life, whatever it may be, I want to be known as a man who got up every day and put my work boots on.” – Mike Barrett.
If there is one thing I will remember Coach Barrett for it will be his paramount work ethic and time commitment. The amount of hours he put in to keeping the weight room open, breaking down game film, and running practices, is a number so large that it is impossible for me to tally. There was an instance after a loss in which I couldn’t sleep. I decided to take a ride up the Cefalo Center (PAHS’s athletic facility) hours after the game had been over only to find Coach breaking down the previous game’s film and preparing for next week’s game.
He tried to implant this burning desire to succeed in all of his players. This work ethic and desire to win was equaled in regards to the rest of the coaching staff (I could write a novel on the character of these men as well).
In life there are many people who are destined to succeed, and there are others who are absolutely determined to succeed. I like to see myself as one of the determined ones. In the game of life, no matter where or what situation it may be, these characteristics Coach Barrett preached about are imperative in order to achieve success.
A team has a goal, good teams work relentlessly towards those goals, and great teams surpass those goals thus becoming unforgettable. Whoever the next Coach in Pittston may be, I wish him the best of luck and would like nothing more than for him to succeed. In order for this to be done the culture I’ve spoke about must not only be built on the field, but should also be present off the field. This team must refuse to fail and must be willing to do whatever it takes in order to become successful.
I will be the first to admit I am by no means the best athlete in the world, but looking back I can say I put forth all my effort into becoming the best I can be. In the end you owe it to yourself to be the best you can possibly be. From my academic and athletic success in high school to now being a U.S. Army Cadet in the R.O.T.C. program at PITT, I credit everything I have become to this day and will become to my biggest role models in life, my parents, and former coach, Coach Barrett.
Although the record may not indicate it, Coach Barrett won many more games than the public has noticed. He has changed and inspired many of his players who will go on to do great things in this world.
It must be noted that there is a difference between winning and succeeding and character and reputation. John Wooden said the way of judging coaches based on a winning or loosing record often forms a misleading reputation of an individual. Trying to turn a bad situation into a good one requires 100% effort, and I’m sure Coach Barrett has not one regret in that aspect.
One can compare success and winning to reputation and character. It is often said that your reputation is what you are perceived to be, and that your character is what your actually are when you look in the mirror. In my opinion a man’s character is much more important than what the general public perceives. And in that sense, Coach Barrett is a very successful man.
Stephen J. Starinsky III
Pittston Area Class of 2013