Coaching Barry-Robinson Paid Off With Memories

(An interview with Coaches Fitzpatrick and Parr from 1967)

By RUSSELL BORJES, Virginian-Pilot Sports Writer
THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Monday, May 8, 1967

(A decision by the Benedictine order to withdraw from Barry-Robinson has cast a pall over the future of the little school on Kempsville Road. Joe Fitzpatrick and George Parr, who coached the Rangers without pay for more than a decade before turning their duties over to Doc Medley and Jim Sweeney, recall the pains of athletics at the school.)

NORFOLK – There may be no future for interscholastic sports at Barry-Robinson but you can’t beat its past, according to former volunteer coaches George Parr and Joe Fitzpatrick.

The little boarding school on Kempsville Road, established in 1924, will lose its faculty of five Roman Catholic priests this year. Even if the school’s board of trustees continues its operation, the interscholastic athletic program is likely to be curtailed or discontinued.

Parr and Fitzpatrick, who coached the Rangers through the transition years of the early 1960s, when Barry- Robinson became a four-year high school, agree that their years at the school are unforgettable.

“It was the greatest experience of my life,” says Parr, an operations analysis superintendent at the Naval Station.

“It’s easy to get hooked at a school like this,” says Fitzpatrick, an executive at Royster Guano and a leading Democratic politician in Norfolk.

Both men spent 11 years at Barry. Fitzpatrick took over in basketball in 1953 and Parr became football coach a year later.

In their early years, Parr and Fitzpatrick dealt mostly with boys from broken homes, orphans and budding delinquents.

“Some of my boys were just a step away from reform school,” says Fitzpatrick. “I remember one boy who had probably the best pair of hands I’ve ever seen on a basketball player. He was a card shark and after he left I had to put him off-limits to the rest of the boys because he would always beat them in card games.”

With only 50 boys in the school (now there are 78 enrolled) Parr and Fitzpatrick quickly grew accustomed to the role of underdog. Even before junior and senior classes were added, both coaches would schedule other high school varsities whenever they had the chance.

“We played two full seasons with only four backs,” recalls Parr. “We wound up practicing in the dark because we had no lights and I didn’t get off work until 5:30.

“One year we had about 17 players but I was calling all the plays from the bench. I had to because I had to be unorthodox in order to make up for being outmanned every game.

“I used a big guard as my messenger boy and one game he fainted after a play. We ran out on the field and I asked him, ‘What’s the matter, son? Did you get hit?’ He was a big boy and he was lying there huffing and puffing like an elephant. ‘Nah, coach, I didn’t get hit,’ he told me.

“So I asked him what in the world was wrong. He said, ‘Coach, I’m just pooped out from running back and forth from the bench to the huddle on every play.’”

Parr’s football teams became noted for their versatility on offense. In his last season the Rangers were 6-1-1. Parr never had a losing year after the first senior class was graduated.

As non-paid coaches, Parr and Fitzpatrick had more than their share of long seasons. When they look back now, they smile – and sometimes laugh out loud.

“I remember one game when Father Ed (Edmond Kollar, former Barry athletic director who is now chaplain at Maryview Hospital in Portsmouth) was held up and couldn’t lead us in the pre-game prayers.

“‘Hurry up, fellows,’ I told the squad. ‘If we don’t get on the field we’ll be penalized. Come on, I’ll say the prayer.’

“So we all got down on our knees and I prayed, ‘Hail, Mary, full of grace, let’s get on that field, we haven’t got a minute to waste. Amen.’

“Father Ed didn’t forgive me for that until a couple of weeks later. He knew I was a Lutheran.”

Fitzpatrick has a scrapbook of clippings to back up his memory, including one story which praises a Methodist boy for pacing the Rangers to a Catholic League victory.

Appearing again and again in the accounts of Barry-Robinson athletic achievements is the name of Bowen. Bucky Bowen was the school’s all-time basketball scoring leader until brother Joe broke the record. Joe, who will graduate in June, has received a grant-in-aid to Wake Forest.

Parr and Fitzpatrick coached Bucky and a third brother, Leo.

“I guess we got more mileage out of Bucky than any boy we ever had,” says Parr. “He played everything. I remember him completing 42 out of 49 passes for us in one game.”

Fitzpatrick is proud of the Ranger basketball accomplishments (his 1962–1963 five went 20-4 and no B-R team since then has won less than 20 per season). But he can’t be blamed if Coach Parr is a better story-teller.

“Let me tell you one more and then I’ve got to go,” Parr will say and then reel off four more stories.

“We were huddling up before one game and I noticed that one boy had on two left shoes. ‘What are you doing with two left shoes?’ I asked him. He looked down and seemed surprised. He hadn’t even noticed. “I asked him what he was going to do about it and he said, ‘Coach, I’m going to find the character who has two right shoes and knock his block off.’”

Parr and Fitzpatrick figure they are far ahead of the game because of their years of service to Barry-Robinson. “It was hard for us at first,” says Parr, “because in those days the boys were real losers when we got them. We had to fight that attitude as well as our opponents. But we are the takers in this thing. It’s an experience neither of us would give a million dollars for.”