Ken Barr, wrestler for legendary coaches at Clearfield Area High School and University of Pittsburgh -- where he earned All-American honors -- who then coached at Upper Darby High all in Pennsylvania, passed away on Oct. 30. He was 76.
Kenneth Barr was part of a family of mat stars at Clearfield who wrestled for Art Weiss, considered "the dean of Pennsylvania schoolboy wrestling" who coached many district and Pennsylvania state champs. Ken followed in the footsteps of older brother Jim as Clearfield's "big man", serving as starter for the team as a senior in 1958. That year, Ken Barr wrestled every dual meet, earning a 10-3 record at 185 pounds, at that time, the top weight. He was crowned District 9 champ at that weight in 1958.
After graduating from Clearfield, Ken Barr headed to University of Pittsburgh to wrestle for yet another revered long-time coach, Rex Peery. Barr was a three-time finalist at the EIWA (Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association) championships (1962-1964), placing second all three years at 177 pounds.
At the 1963 NCAA Wrestling Championships at Kent State in Ohio, Barr -- unseeded in the 177-pound weight class -- placed fifth in the bracket to earn All-American honors. In the first round, Barr lost to No. 2 seed Harry Houska of Ohio University. However, Barr battled back in the consolation bracket, shutting out Northern Iowa's Steve Hoemann, then Jim Grover of Iowa State. In the match for fourth place, Barr lost to No. 3 seed Richard Bell of the University of Washington, 5-4. (Back then, the top six wrestlers in a weight class earned All-American status. The champ at 177 that year was Dean Lahr of University of Colorado.)
Ken Barr gets his hand raised after a victoryAccording to the "Kenneth Barr RIP" Facebook tribute page, Barr graduated from Pitt in 1965. In addition to being a member of the Pitt Panther wrestling team, the 1964 "Owl" yearbook reported that Barr was an education major and treasurer of the Physical Education Club.
In 1966, Barr started his 32-year coaching career at Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, Pa., working a number of years as assistant to Art McCall. In addition, Barr started his Safe-T-Sweep chimney cleaning business in 1980.
A number of friends and associates shared their recollections of their friend and mentor, Ken Barr.
"Ken Barr was definitely an 'old school' wrestling coach who emphasized the mental toughness side of the sport," George Baughan, an assistant to Barr at UDHS, told InterMat. "I really enjoyed coaching with him in '73 and '74. I could never understand how he could get up on roofs and clean chimneys with hip replacements."
"I considered Ken Barr and Art McCall to be very similar in how they coached, but two different sizes, so the whole team was covered," according to Carl Dambman, who wrestled heavyweight at the University of Massachusetts and was twice an alternate for the U.S. Greco-Roman team at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. "They were both outstanding wrestlers in high school and college, but did not talk about it. There was no yelling, insulting, or berating in practice or in meets. They wrestled with the team. There was a lot of concentration on technique. You always knew they were on your side, win or lose. They instilled confidence in their wrestlers, which resulted in some fine wrestling careers in college, and a great many highly productive lives after wrestling was over. Several wrestlers have told me what a profound effect their coaching had on them. I did not realize how fortunate we were at the time."
"I can tell you, Ken had a big impact on me as a young wrestler and helped shape me as a man," said Steve Bell, Upper Darby Class of 1974. "I will never forget how he went out of his way to work with me as a 10th grade 95 pounder. It was through his encouragement that I was able win the varsity spot and I always counted on him for support when I needed it. I had the privilege of knowing him as a colleague and a friend when I started at Upper Darby in 1991. He was a great role model and mentor."