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Remembering Bryan Station coach Bobby Barlow

April 20, 2020 FieldsColumn

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Bobby Barlow coached Bryan Station to 311 victories, including four region titles. (Herald-Leader photo)

BY MIKE FIELDS (April 20, 2020)

Bobby Barlow, best known for his success as Bryan Station’s basketball coach in the 1970s and early ‘80s, and whose teams won 528 games in his 25-year career, died Sunday. He was 94.

Jack Givens, Barlow’s brightest star at Bryan Station, remembered his high school coach as more than just a teacher of X’s and O’s.

“He was a great man, no doubt about it,” Givens said. “He treated us all like we were his own kids. He taught us the right way not just to play basketball, but the right way to live.”

Barlow, it seemed, was destined to coach. One of his classmates at Garth High School in Georgetown wrote in their 1945 yearbook that Barlow would one day be the basketball coach at Notre Dame.

That didn’t happen, but Barlow did wind up on the sidelines designing defenses and drawing up plays, first at Great Crossing in Georgetown and then at Scott County following consolidation in 1955.

Barlow moved on to Bourbon County in 1960 and in his fourth season with the Colonels led them to the Sweet Sixteen. His star player, Jim LeMaster, went on to play college ball at Kentucky.

LeMaster remembered Barlow the same way Givens did.

“He was a great high school coach and a super role model,” LeMaster said. “He was very good at what he did and a super person on top of that. He was a great Christian; he lived it.”

After that first state tournament appearance, Barlow got out of coaching and into administration, but three years later returned to the court at Millersburg Military Institute. That stint lasted one season before he found his sweet spot at Bryan Station where he coached for 14 years.

Bobby Barlow

The coach with the snow-white hair (that he had since he was in his 30s) led the talent-rich Defenders to 311 victories and four region titles. In 1972 they lost to eventual state champ Owensboro in the semifinals. In 1974 they lost to Male in the quarterfinals.

But arguably their biggest heartbreak came in 1973. Led by all-staters Givens and Ted Hundley, Bryan Station was rated No. 1 in the state. Its only two losses in the regular season were to Tates Creek.

Then, In the 43rd District semifinals before 12,000 fans in UK’s Memorial Coliseum, Tates Creek beat the Defenders again, 60-55.

Barlow always referred to it as the most disappointing loss of his career.

“We could have won three straight state championships from ’72 to ’74,” he once said. “But we just didn’t get the right breaks.”

Givens, who went on to help UK win an NCAA title in 1978, said Barlow’s coaching style was unusual in that he never cursed.

“I used to joke with him. I’d tell him, ‘Coach, you didn’t do a real good job of preparing me for college.’ And he’d look at me and give me a look like, what are you talking about?

“I said I never heard you use even an inkling of profanity. Then I went (and played for) Joe B. (Hall at UK). You didn’t prepare me for that.

“(Coach Barlow) was a deeply religious man, and he didn’t use profanity to get his message across. He did a great job of explaining things.”

LeMaster has the same memories.

“In the four years I played for him he got so mad sometimes he was almost blue in the face, but he never once uttered a cuss word,” LeMaster said.

Givens said Barlow’s defense-first philosophy served Bryan Station well.

“We were fortunate to have some great athletes who fit his style perfectly. It was all off of defense first. Once we got the ball we could run and do what we wanted on offense. It was a lot of fun.”

Barlow finished his career by leading the Defenders to the Sweet Sixteen in 1981 and ’82. With stars such as LeRoy Byrd, William Conner, Keith Berry and Jeff Clay, they were considered among the favorites to win it all both years.

But in ’81 they were upset by Mason County in the quarterfinals, and in ’82 they were upended by North Hardin in the opening game of the tournament.

Barlow was voted the Courier-Journal’s Coach of the Year in 1973 and ’81.

After graduating from high school, Barlow served in the Navy during World War II and was in the Pacific when the fighting ended. He returned home and attended Georgetown College.

He wed his high school sweetheart, Joy Lewis, in 1950. They were married 67 years before she passed away in 2017.

The Barlows are survived by their children Dr. Robb (Karen) Barlow, and Laurie Barlow, along with several grandkids and great-grandkids.

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