On Aug. 3, former Geneva High School teacher and boys basketball coach John Barton died at age 71 after a two-year fight against cancer.
Shortly after Mr. Barton's passing, Daily Herald columnist Dave Heun wrote an article saluting Mr. Barton's work as both a physical education teacher and driving instructor as well a leader of Vikings boys basketball.
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This writer cannot improve on Dave's story. We felt, however, that further mention of Mr. Barton in this space may reach readers who missed the story back in August, or those who focus mainly on local sports.
So, with thanks to Dave Heun and respect for the late Mr. Barton, the intent is to revisit some of the key points Dave made about, as he wrote then, "one of Geneva's most beloved coaches."
Fittingly, Dave highlights the night of March 10, 1981, when in the Illinois High School Association boys basketball playoffs Mr. Barton's Vikings upset sectional host East Aurora, 74-70.
(That Geneva squad featured Tim Pease, who went on to coach the Vikings himself and is now an assistant with Metea Valley's boys program, as well as Pete Temple and Mark Searcy, each of whom has children currently in Geneva athletic programs. Pace Temple is a sophomore receiver on the varsity football team, and Pete's daughter Mady was a track athlete; Searcy's daughter, Kirsten, is a softball star.)
Dave Heun cites a 2004 interview with Mr. Barton, who recalled the victory, which temporarily denied the late East Aurora basketball coach Ernie Kivisto a 300th career victory and a booster-supplied cake to go with it.
"The electricity in that East Aurora gym was unbelievable," Mr. Barton said in the interview. "It was like a mini Chicago Stadium."
Those of us old enough to recall the magic of the old Stadium's smoky confines get the gist of that statement, as did committee members of the Geneva High School Athletic Hall of Fame, who inducted Mr. Barton in 2011. The former coach led the Vikings from 1981-89, directing five regional champions and two Little Seven Conference titlists.
Athletics and those involved in them receive much attention and glory, but it was comments on Mr. Barton's skill as an educator that really struck home.
Reaching the legendary Vikings Hall of Fame football coach Jerry Auchstetter for his article, Dave Heun wrote that the two men worked together for all of Mr. Barton's 27 years at Geneva, and Auchstetter knew him for 45 years.
"John was more a brother to me than a friend," Auchstetter told Dave.
The article went on to quote the football coach: "He had so much compassion for the kids in his classes and he had a natural insight when evaluating kids who had problems. He would say what he thought was bothering a kid, and 99 percent of the time, he was right."
Auchstetter continued: "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. 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."
All's well that lands Wells
As one door closes, they say, another opens.
The door that in March shut behind Bryan Wells as the only head coach Neuqua Valley's varsity football team had known delivered a boon to Aurora Christian.
Two of them, actually, since Wells' son, Nathan, also transferred from Neuqua to enroll at Aurora Christian. A junior who got varsity reps with the Neuqua Wildcats last season, Nathan Wells begins the 2012 campaign as a starting offensive guard for the Eagles.
"The best I've seen him play was last week," Bryan said.
On Don Beebe's staff at defending Class 3A state champion Aurora Christian, Bryan Wells serves as special teams coach for the varsity squad and helps out with offense -- in his off hours as the school's new principal and dean of students after succeeding Steve Hanson.
"Bryan's been a great addition, not only from a coaching perspective, but he's just a good guy who fits in with our staff," Beebe said.
"He had a hard decision to make, because Bryan's a family guy who wants to be around his son. It was fortunate that the principal job opened up and he got it. It was really kind of an easy decision once he saw that."
It's a reversal of sorts. After Beebe retired from the NFL, mutual friend Jim Still -- then at Neuqua Valley, now at Yorkville and a buddy of Beebe's from Kaneland High -- said he had a pal who might be interested in coaching. Beebe assisted with Neuqua's program for about a year and a half, Wells said.
"I learned a great deal from him even from that time," Wells said.
No football coach owned a greater passion toward his players and program than Wells, so he was naturally stunned when dismissed from the Neuqua coaching position. He admitted to initial bitterness, but eventually came around to apply what he calls the "50:20 rule," a passage from the Book of Genesis. Paraphrasing, he said: "What man intended for evil, God intended for good."
Wells, who coincidentally had Nathan playing middle-school football at Aurora Christian while being home-schooled, said it felt "pretty natural" to call Beebe and see if a coaching spot was available. At the time Wells didn't know the principal position had opened up, but before Memorial Day got a call from Superintendent Collette House about the job.
"I'd like to think that our whole purpose and why we get into education is to influence young people not just academically but in lessons for life, and I think that was accomplished there (at Neuqua Valley)," Wells said.
"My perspective is, it was my time, my time was done, it was time for me to move on. I really have enjoyed my time here at Aurora Christian, the role I have here, and I think I can continue to go on and make a difference in young people's lives both in my role as principal and helping out on the field."