Former Geneva High basketball coach John Barton dies
Family, friends, former students, athletes and coaching colleagues said goodbye this week to one of Geneva's most beloved coaches — for what he accomplished in his classrooms and on one night in the East Aurora gymnasium 31 years ago.
John Barton, a former Geneva High School teacher and coach, died at 71 on Aug. 3 after a two-year fight against cancer.
Barton's 27 years as a driver's education and physical education teacher at the high school, plus his stirring run as head boys basketball coach from 1981 to 1989, provided the most pleasant of memories.
"John was more of a brother to me than a friend," said former Geneva football coach Jerry Auchstetter, who worked with Barton for those 27 years and has known him for 45 years.
"He had so much compassion for the kids in his classes and he had a natural insight when evaluating kids who had problems," Auchstetter marveled. "He would say what he thought was bothering a kid, and 99 percent of the time, he was right."
Mostly, Barton treated all of his students the same, no matter what their previous reputation, Auchstetter added.
"A lot of us, as teachers, have a natural tendency to pigeonhole a kid as a troublemaker and it's a reputation they carry throughout school," he said. "John treated them all the same, and he was so legitimate and so sincere about it, the kids believed in him.
"His respect turned around a lot of kids," Auchstetter said.
While Barton's skills as a teacher were well known in the halls of Geneva High School, it was his basketball coaching — especially during his first season as head coach — that most will forever link his legacy.
Even further, one could say that Barton, who was inducted into the Geneva High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, locked his place in Viking sports lore by commandeering a major upset over East Aurora in sectional tournament action.
After taking over for Bob Schick, another Hall of Fame coach, for the 1980-81 season, Barton led his team to a 22-7 record. Geneva secured a victory over Batavia for the first time in a decade, and went on a storybook march to the sectional final at East Aurora.
To reach that sectional final, Barton's team had to get past the host Tomcats, a superb Upstate Eight Conference squad predicted to go deep in the state tournament that year. Geneva ran head-on into the Tomcats in the sectional opener on March 10, 1981.
East Aurora coach Ernie Kivisto was gunning for his 300th career victory and rambunctious Tomcats supporters had a cake ready and a party planned to enjoy after what was supposed to be an easy win over Geneva. That cake was left untouched.
"The electricity in that East Aurora gym was unbelievable," Barton said in a 2004 interview about that historic night. "It was like a mini Chicago Stadium."
Geneva fans were providing most of the energy, as the Vikings stormed back from a first-half deficit to corral a 74-70 victory.
"I just remember calling a timeout in the second half when I saw that East had kind of hit a wall," Barton said. "I really put a charge into the boys, letting them know that they could pull this off."
Those boys included former Geneva coach Tim Pease, Pete Temple, Don Wallner, Jim Seidel, Mark Searcy and Jerry Pinter, among other key contributors.
Barton, who retired a couple of years after his basketball career ended, was known for his boisterous voice during games, always encouraging his players to "get up" after rebounds. His style was the perfect complement to the quieter coaching style of his assistant, the late Bob Buchanan.
Barton, a graduate of Proviso East High School and Southern Illinois University, completed a successful career by winning two Little Seven Conference titles, five regional titles and the sectional semifinal victory over East Aurora.
But Auchstetter, who himself carried Geneva to plenty of football glory, knew a magical Geneva moment when he saw it.
"That win over East Aurora was one of the biggest in the school's history, one you can't forget," he said.
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