Curtis Barbay was one-of-a-kind legend
Willis Webb
Everyone who knew the late Curtis Barbay has a story about him.

I was privileged to get to visit several times over a 15-year span with the longtime head football coach and athletic director at Newton High School in deep East Texas.

He died in September after collapsing at halftime at a game.

Coach Barbay had been at Newton since the 1968 football season. From May 1991 through December 2006, I got to write about Newton football, usually when his Eagles played my Jasper Bulldogs.

Occasionally, it was when his Newton County team met another Jasper County team, the Kirbyville Wildcats. And, sometimes, it was to cover Newton as the only playoff team from the area.

Barbay’s Eagles won state championships in 1974 (while he was an assistant) and in 1998 while he was leading the program.

Coaches are judged mostly by their win-loss record and Barbay didn’t suffer by that rule of thumb as his Eagle teams won 317 games in his 36 years there.

He is ranked as the fourth winningest coach in Texas high school football history. Barbay’s knowledge and coaching ability would have made him successful at any size high school but he chose to stay in Newton because its smalltown values and atmosphere suited him. He actually became head coach in 1975.

His laid-back demeanor belied the intensity he felt about coaching high school youngsters and producing winners. Barbay’s love and respect for the high school students and athletes with whom he interacted daily was evident.

He was demanding in his expectations of disciplined behavior and effort from his charges but never treated them with disrespect.

The fact that he was still coaching at age 68 also said a lot about Barbay’s devotion to giving high school youngsters a leg up on life. Barbay’s family was first in his life. His daughter and her family were often at Newton games and his two sons coach in Coldspring and Anahuac.

When his Eagles had an open date, he made his way to view a game coached by one of his sons.

When Jasper High School had an open date, I often found a way to cover the Newton game. On one such an occasion, his Eagles were playing in Kirbyville, a mere 20 minutes away, so I took my camera and hit the Wildcat Stadium sidelines.

In those days, the Kirbyville program hadn’t reached the heights it now enjoys under a former Barbay assistant, Jack Alvarez, so Newton was way ahead of the Wildcats at halftime.

Barbay turned the game over to Alvarez and his other assistants in the second half and he just sort of sauntered up and down the sideline. I took advantage of the opportunity to visit with him while shooting pictures of the action.

“Kirbyville just doesn’t seem to have near the talent you’ve got in Newton,” I opined to Barbay. The Wildcats hadn’t had a winning season in a few years, so I felt somewhat safe making the remark.

“Shoot,” Barbay said. “Give me these Kirbyville kids for a year and we’d have ‘em winning.”

His chief assistant at the time, Alvarez, of course made the move to Kirbyville as head coach a few years later and proved Barbay’s statement. Alvarez has led the Wildcats to the state finals twice and has coached them into consistent winners.

As this is written, Kirbyville is 8-0 and a state-ranked 3A team.

This season, Barbay’s Newton team lost the opener to Alvarez’s tough Wildcats, then won two games before playing Buna. After Barbay’s collapse at halftime in Buna, his team went on to win that Friday night game.

The coach died the next afternoon.

The next week, Newton lost a district game to East Chambers but is now 6-2 on the season and 4- 1 in district play in late October.

The Barbay legacy and touch continue.w

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2010-11-04 digital edition

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