by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It wasn’t just me. As sports editor here for seven years I always thought Elks’ A.D. John Barth was a peach of a guy to work with, good natured, on top of everything, always helpful. Evidently that feeling is universal.
“Coaches and AD’s around the area talked about John in how well he gets along with people and supports his coaches,” said Paul Gustafson, Rogers AD and former coaching cohort of Barth’s at ERHS. “As an AD you need to be extremely visible, and John always was. You saw him at everything. That’s very important to the school.”
Gustafson, former Elk football coach, regards Barth as an invaluable mentor: “I called him many times every day for advice on how he did things. The first couple years, he helped me tremendously.”
Gustafson said Barth’s patience and humor served him well: “As stressful as this job can be, you never knew that in talking with John.”
Elk River mayor John Dietz, my predecessor as sports editor here, and a former school board member, was especially impressed with Barth’s work in helping launch the Rogers and Zimmerman programs.
“The task was to make one athletic program into three without much more money and John did a great job of that,” said Dietz. “He was the one who got those two programs running … I wrote a scathing column at the time when the then-superintendent wanted to spend $100,000 to hire an AD for the overall district with AD’s at each of the schools too. I wrote, why do that when John has already done all the work? That idea went away.”
Dietz, a member of the committee that hired Barth, noted that the AD “knows lots of people, the right people to get stuff done” such as building the press box at the football stadium and improving the appearance of the gymnasium with banners and other tweaks. “Few people realize how much John has done for the school behind the scenes.”
As an athlete’s father, Dietz lauded Barth’s rapport with kids. “He would compliment them, or tease them, about the game the night before, and it was always appreciated,” said Dietz.
Jeff Downing, who was Zimmerman’s first A.D. and worked with Barth in that capacity and while coaching two sports, observed: “One more thing I liked about John was when kids messed up he would always try to use it as a teaching moment and help them learn from mistakes … Sometimes kids can feel like you’ve given up on them, but they didn’t with John.”
Elk softball coach Stacey Sheetz says she “absolutely adored John” as A.D. and is a bit apprehensive about who would succeed him. “There will be big shoes to fill … John really cared about the girls and how they were doing and would do whatever he could to help the program.”
Barth did the announcing for Sheetz’s alumni games and cracked up the Elks and alums with wisecracks about them. The ex-jock also took one at-bat each year. “He always hit a homer, too,” said Sheetz. Much like the way he did his job.