Legendary football coach Walter Barr dies at 85

coachbarrWalter Barr, a man whose character is revered even more than his legendary football coaching accomplishments, died on Monday at 85.

A Frederick County resident who grew up in Clarke County, Barr had been dealing with Alzheimer’s at the time of his death. But in the prime of his life, his mind was as sharp as they come, and it was just the right mix of caring and tough.

“He was just an amazing human being,” said former state Sen. Russ Potts of Winchester, who has known Barr since he was a Clarke County High School athlete in the 1950s. “He touched so many lives. He was one of my best friends.”

Barr’s footprints and impact have been felt throughout Clarke County, Frederick County, Winchester and West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle over the last seven decades.

A 1955 Clarke County High School graduate, Barr’s coaching career included two stints at James Wood High School (1967-70 and 2005-07), four years at Sherando High School (1994-97), one year at Loudoun County High School (1990), 15 years at Shepherd College, now Shepherd University (1971-85) and two years at Shenandoah University (2000-01) when SU restarted its football program after last fielding a team in 1967.

Barr is a member of athletic Halls of Fame at Clarke (he played football, basketball and baseball for the Eagles), James Wood and Shepherd (he also played three years as quarterback for the Rams). He will be inducted into Shenandoah’s Hall of Fame in 2022. (Barr is a member of multiple other Halls of Fame, including the NAIA.) Barr’s teams went a combined 210-94-5.

He guided James Wood to its only state football championship in school history in 1970 in Group AAA to cap a remarkable 38-2-1 four-year run, and he took Sherando to the first of back-to-back state championship games in just the school’s third year of existence in 1995. Barr guided the Rams to three conference championships from 1971-86, their first postseason appearance in 1983, and posted a record of 107-48-4.

Simply put, Barr made a huge difference just about everywhere he went from a record standpoint. The discipline he instilled in his players is something they’ll never forget.

“[Barr] demanded a lot from you,” Archie Anderson, an All-State offensive tackle on the 1970 championship team that went 10-0-1, said during an interview last year. “He was a perfectionist. ‘Run it again. Run it again,’ in practice. One little mistake — ‘Run it again.’ He wanted perfection. We were disciplined. I mean disciplined.

“Y’all were going to have to beat us. We weren’t going to beat ourselves. You beat us fair and square, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you have to prove to us that you can beat us. You’re going to have to put in more time than we did, and nobody put in more time than we did.”

When James Wood announced in 2019 that it was going to rename its football field “Walter Barr Field at Jerry Kelican Stadium” in 2019, Ron Combs said Barr was a like a father to him when he was a teenager. Barr coached Combs at both James Wood and Shepherd and encouraged him to become a coach. Combs spent 36 years at Shenandoah Valley Christian Academy before moving on to Legacy Christian Academy and is in the National Association of Christian Athletics Hall of Fame.

Jason Barbe, Sherando’s coordinator of student activities for 23 years, was the defensive coordinator throughout Barr’s time at Sherando. He also viewed Barr like a father.

“He was one of a kind,” said Barbe, who took over as Warriors head coach after Barr. “He was a special individual who impacted so many student lives as well as the folks that worked with him. There’s no doubt in my mind that I would not have been as fortunate to accomplish professionally what I’ve been able to if it hadn’t been for the years I spent working for him.

“And then the ability, even after I was no longer working for him, to reach out to him with questions, and for advice on all aspects of life, was something that meant a lot to me.”

Handley coordinator of student activities Reed Prosser also served as Barr’s defensive coordinator, doing so at Shenandoah in 2000 and 2001. It wasn’t always easy — Anderson’s description of Barr’s practices pretty much say it all — but Prosser came out better for it in a head coaching career that included stops at Broadway, Millbrook and Heritage.

“Coach Barr is one of the finest individuals I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing,” Prosser said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it was always a pleasant experience. Working for Coach Barr was exceedingly demanding, but a genuinely great experience.

“One of the things that Coach was so great about is that he had the ability to want you to do well, and be able to drive you to do well. And then at the same time, he could always reel you back in at the end of the day, where you knew he cared about you and you knew he loved you and you knew he wanted to make you a better person. Anything that I did well as a head coach, a lot of it can be attributed to Coach Barr.”

Barr didn’t win a state championship at James Wood in his second stint from 2005-07, the final stop of his coaching career. But after going 1-9 in 2005, the 2006 James Wood team went 7-3 for its first winning season since 1981 and the 2007 team made the playoffs for the first time since 1980.

James Wood coordinator of student activities Craig Woshner took on his current role in 2003. He was part of a three-man committee that hired Barr, a hire that Woshner said raised expectations for not just the football program but the entire athletic department.

“The football program was at the bottom of the barrel at that point,” Woshner said. “When he interviewed for the position, we didn’t have any question who the right person for the job was.

“The phrase that we used at that time was ‘instant credibility.’ Coach Barr’s success and experience at the high school and college level, there was no question who could bring the program back to respectability. He obviously did that really quickly.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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