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Bearcat coach nears finish line
September 02, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez

Courtesy photo Scottsbluff Cross Country Head Coach Jim Barker poses with the 2010 Boys’ State Champions he felt was a “pretty special team.” The team was one of 11 that won titles under Barker. Left to right, back row, Barker, Luke Parsley, Charles Belford, Ben Willis-Teff, Brendan Taedter, Coach Aaron Carrizales, Coach John Seiler. Left to right, front row: Justin Pritchard, Russell Morgan and Anthony Parra.

Local legend Jim Barker started coaching in 1976. The longtime Scottsbluff High School cross country and track and field coach will be inducted into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame in Lincoln come October 2.

Hall of Fame officials have given him five-minute time limit for his speech, Barker is pretty sure about what he’ll say. “It isn’t about me,” he said. “It’s all the people who have been a part of my career. It’s been my peers, family, athletes, coaches, parents and mentors. That’s who it’s for, too. There are hundreds and hundreds of people who have been part of the process, people who have helped to mold me. THEY are the people I need to thank. From the start of a season to the end, we (coaches) are all about giving back, and serving others.”

Barker ranks No. 1 all-time in Nebraska for the most state boys’ cross country titles won – one more than George O’Boyle of Lincoln Pius X, and Ted Larson of Lincoln Southeast. His interest in sports grew in Lincoln, because it is after all a college town. “We lived across the street from Nebraska Wesleyan. My parents were avid sports fans, there was an indoor track under the east stadium at UNL, and my dad was a friend of the coach. I was mostly involved in track and field.”

Coaching cross country came post-college, when running was starting to gain popularity. Because of his interest in running, Barker eventually met idol Billy Mills, an Olympic gold medalist in the 10,000 meter run in the 1964 Tokyo Games, the second Native American after Jim Thorpe to win gold.

Barker retired after 41 years in the classroom as of this May – 36 years in Scottsbluff. He taught seventh grade Social Studies. “I’ll take this one step a time.” About retirement, he said, “it was a tough choice. This is a passion I have, but I’m OK with leaving the classroom, and have no second thoughts. It’s the right decision, but I wasn’t ready to give up everything associated with public schools, including coaching.”

Because of his scheduled retirement, Barker gave up coaching track and field for the Bearcats. Nebraska rules require him to take six months off before reapplying for a new position. Coaching this season of cross country marks a total of 42 years of being a coach, nine years as the head coach of track and field at Scottsbluff. Starting in 1982, he was an assistant under Jim Petitt, then served as head coach of the boys when Gary Hartman left following the 2007 season. In 1988, he became the head coach for the boys’ cross country team.

He started out in Madrid, Nebraska, with his wife Pam of 41 years. They have been married since July 26, 1975. There were only about 250 people in Madrid at that time, and about the same number in the village of Elsie, where they lived. The kids from both towns now attend school in Grant which comprises Perkins County School District.

“Madrid was a great place to start in a small district,” Barker said. “You get to know the kids and families very well. I still talk with former students I taught back in the 70s.”

Credit Pam for Barker’s interest in education. He earned a History degree in 1973 from Nebraska-Wesleyan University in Lincoln, not far away from where Barker grew up. She talked him into going back to school to get his teaching credentials and endorsements. Plus, they would have compatible jobs, with summers off.

In her career, working in the Gering schools system, Pam has taught and been the principal at every elementary school in Gering. Currently, she is the principal at Lincoln.

He grew up in a sports mecca, and watched the Huskers – football, track and basketball. His parents were avid sports fans and took Jim to a variety of sporting events hosted in Lincoln to include indoor track meets where he watched the Big Eight in action. In attending high school, he went on to represent the Northeast Rockets with roots formed in junior high where he was encouraged to run by physical education teacher Dean Sell.

About four years ago, Scottsbluff decided to consolidate the position for cross country, and track and field. For this school year, Scottsbluff named a replacement for Barker in track and field, big shoes to fill, but Barker said he has no doubts Shelby Aaberg can pick up where he’s left off. Aaberg, current high school Math chairman and Nebraska teacher of the year in 2015, was hired by Activities Director Dave Hoxworth, who is in his second year.

Barker described the difference between the two sports. “Cross country is about getting physically and mentally stronger. Track is about working on foot speed, and getting faster. Establishing that in my youth and coming up through coaching, I can’t tell you which sport is my favorite; depends on the season. I didn’t play football, and realized early that running was my forte. That shaped my coaching. I remember running daily for years without a day off. I have always been associated with top runners, and surrounded by family members of the running community, and talking to other coaches to find out what works, and what doesn’t. One never stops growing if you want to give your athletes your best effort.”

This year, he calls Scottsbluff’s boys cross country team “a work in progress, but I like what I’ve seen over the summer. We’ll work on team chemistry and getting betHter each day. We’re expecting about 15 boys out this season, and we’ll try to match what we did last year with the goal of qualifying the team for state.”

Scottsbluff’s boys’ cross country teams finished in sixth place last year, while the girls team finished second.

“Training this summer has been superb. The girls have come together,” Barker said. They want to make up for last year, when the finished six points behind Elkhorn South. “We are on a mission. The guys, too, even though there’s more work to do with the boys, I do see them having a good season. From season to season, there are peaks and valleys. We’d like to be on top every year; it’s dreaming the impossible dream. Each meet is a stepping stone to the state meet. It’s a team sport. In cross country, you count on each other to get to the finish line as fast as you can. There are no time-outs or substitutes like there are in other sports. You rely on the six or seven kids doing it for each other. That’s what we work on.”

Overall, Barker has guided the Bearcats boys’ cross country team to 11 state championships and five runner-up finishes, and a boys Class B state track and field championship in 2012, nearly repeating in 2013 and 2015. In track and field, the Scottsbluff girls won the Class B-6 District title, and tied for 11th at state, while the boys tied for 15th at state.

Barker is not the only inductee with Scottsbluff ties. Current Nebraska School Activities Association Executive Director Jim Tenopir will be inducted as well. He was a former Activities Director at Scottsbluff. Previously, Wayne Binfield, had been the only other cross country and track and field hall of fame coach from Scottsbluff.

At the hall of fame ceremony on October 2, Barker will be one of six coaches, 12 athletes, two contributors and an official who will be inducted.

Barker and Tenopir will join 20 other western Nebraska members in the Hall of Fame that inducted its first class in 1994. They include: Binfield, Scottsbluff – 1994; Bill Madden, Scottsbluff – 1996; Eugene “Red” Littler, Mitchell – 1997; Chuck Deter, Gering – 1998; Amy Stephens, Alliance – 1999; Joe American Horse, Gordon – 2000; Kelly Stauffer, Rushville – 2000; Archie Cronn, Chadron - 2001; Susan Roll, Chadron - 2001; M.E. “Bus” Whitehead, Scottsbluff - 2002; Don Knauss, Gering - 2004; Ray Knaub, Scottsbluff - 2006; Con Marshall, Chadron- 2008; Paul Mohr, Scottsbluff- 2008; Keith Staehr, Kimball- 2009; Rex Jones, Chadron- 2010; Bill Conner, Scottsbluff- 2011; Darrell Lenz, Chappell- 2013; Gerald Ferguson, Scottsbluff- 2014; Gary Neibauer, Scottsbluff – 2014.

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