The Memories Still Linger on at Barry-Robinson

(Editor's note: This story was written shortly after the closing of the school was announced, but before the final disposition of the facility's future was determined)

By RICHARD ZITRIN, Ledger-Star Sports Writer

NORFOLK – Joe Fitzpatrick is deeply involved in the political game, playing state senator and chairman of the state Democratic Party at once, and his devotion to basketball consists of Maryland on television. He coached at Barry-Robinson 11 years, beginning in 1953 when Fitzpatrick was 22, and since he’s been separated from the masochistic hobby he’s seen just three Barry-Robinson games.

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Fitzpatrick says, “it’s just that once you get out of coaching, you have to make that total breakaway. I go to games and I become a coach. I start calling time-outs and yelling at players to do this and that. It’s rough on me.

“I have some wonderful memories from those years I coached at Barry-Robinson, though. Eleven great years. Had some good teams. The best was the ’62, ’63 team. We were twenty and four that year.

“Ya know we went to the semifinals in the state Catholic tournament four years in a rowandmy last three yearswe beat Norfolk Catholic 16 straight games. We used to fill the place. An overflow crowd was 400 and that was with ‘em all around the wall.”

Last night, in the same gymnasium where Fitzpatrick displayed his teams, the ticket man at the door said there were 150 curious people inside the Barry-Robinson gym, a converted chapel with yellow-painted bricks where the arched doorways used to be. Half, he said, were probably from Brewbaker Academy, the other half most likely there on behalf of Barry-Robinson.

A normal crowd, the ticketman said, but a highly abnormal situation. The game, which resulted in the 19th loss out of 22 games for Barry-Robinson, was significant if only for the reality that Friday’s home game with Frederick Military will be the last ever for Barry- Robinson in the converted chapel with the brown linoleum floor. Since 1961 there has been a four-year high school at Barry-Robinson and, as of June, that will apparently be no more.

Two weeks ago the board of trustees let it be known that the 43-year-old facility on Kempsville Road will become a home for young men who need remedial tutoring. A home for “mildly delinquent boys,” both Norfolk newspapers reported the day after the trustees’ made their decision known, agonizing a good many of the 97 students and their families who want the four-year school to persist.

“I hate to use labels,” says Father Bonaventure Midili, the Barry-Robinson headmaster. “That’s very self-righteous. My definition of the boys we’ll be taking at Barry-Robinson might be a certain boy who has certain developmental needs that can’t be met elsewhere.”

“The word going around is that there will be juvenile delinquents at Barry-Robinson,” Richard Hunt, the basketball coach, says. “That’s not right. There’s going to be a remedial program, remedial reading, concerns like that. Not such a bad idea, either, considering the reading levels of so many students. There are probably 15 students here now who should reapply for tutoring.

“The parents are trying to stop the board’s action, but I’m not optimistic. I’m resigned to the fact that Friday will be the last game in this gym. They plan to have 40 boys here next year and that’s hardly enough for a sports program. I can’t see them having a basketball team.”

Doug Roughton, who is 16, a junior at Barry-Robinson, is a 5-foot-6 young man who is the team’s leading scorer with something like a 17-point average. Last night, in the loss to Brewbaker Academy, he had 16 points, 15 the second half of the 76-64 loss.

He doesn’t remember the Bowen brothers from Ocean View: Bucky, who played on Fitzpatrick’s favorite team in the early Sixties, or Joe,who graduated in ’67 and is thought by some to be one of the finer basketball players to appear in this area.

Nor does Roughton remember that Barry-Robinson was one of the first schools to play black high schools before the practice became universally in vogue.

He just remembers living in the same house his entire 16 years around the corner from Barry-Robinson thinking all the time he’d go to school there.

“I really don’t know what I’ll do next year, maybe go to Brewbaker,” he says. “We still hold some hope. This used to be a school for, well, how do you say it; I guess juvenile delinquents. But this place has changed. It’s an accredited school, you’re more proud to say you go here. There are all kinds of people here. Some rough, some smart. No different than any other place.”