Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Honoring Jim Barlow

From TigerBlog's seat about 25 or so feet away, it looked like Jim Barlow was blushing a bit.

The occasion was the 44th Trenton Select Committee awards dinner Sunday afternoon, and Barlow, the head coach of men's soccer at Princeton, was the main honoree. Speaker after speaker came up to talk about Barlow the coach and Barlow the person, including Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan, a classmate of Barlow's while Tiger undergrads.

In addition, former Seton Hall coach Manfred Schellscheidt, a member of the national soccer Hall of Fame, and current Rider head coach Charlie Inverso spoke about Barlow. Well, they were mostly Inverso's words, though they were read by local sportswriting legend Rich Fisher, since Charlie was on the bus back from Fairfield after his Broncs won the MAAC tournament title.

In fact, Fish did a great job of delivering Charlie's words, mixing in some of his own humor with Charlie's to make a great tribute for Barlow. Then it was up to Chris Barlow, Jim's brother, to introduce him. Again, the humor and the sentiment were combined to paint a picture of Barlow to the room.

And from where TB sat, as he said, he thinks Barlow was blushing. If nothing else, Barlow was clearly uncomfortable being the center of attention, which speaks as much about him as any of the words that were being said about him.

TigerBlog is sure of that. TB and Barlow have spent a lot of time together through the years, and TB thinks he knows him pretty well.

Of everyone who works in the Department of Athletics, TigerBlog has known Jim Barlow the longest. Back before they both were at Princeton. Back before TB was covering Princeton in the newspaper business. Back before he worked at a local paper where Barlow was a contributing writer.

Nope, TB and Barlow go all the way back to Hightstown High School, where TB first wrote about Barlow when he was a high school soccer player. Even all these years later, TigerBlog knows exactly what he thought about Barlow when he was younger - there's something obviously special about this guy.

Jim Barlow is as high a quality human being as anyone TigerBlog has ever met. As the speakers took to the podium, there was good-natured joking about his legendary rule following and how he's an authority on NCAA rules. There was one story after another about Barlow's integrity, his humility, his passion for soccer, his sense of responsibility to those who have played for him - and every word of it was true.

So how would TB sum up Barlow? Easy. He cares. In a world where not that many people really honestly care, Jim Barlow does.

There are a lot of other things TB could say about his longtime friend. He's smart. He's funny, in an understated way. He's thoughtful, both in the "generous" and "deep-thinking" senses of the word. He is extremely loyal.

What he's really great at is building relationships with people, all people, any people TB has ever seen him around.

That's because he cares. He doesn't ask how you're doing looking for a cursory "fine." He wants to know how you are, and if you're not okay, he wants to know how he can help.

He's as genuine as it gets.

And all of this is why he was so uncomfortable about the attention Sunday night.

The Trenton Select Committee dinner came one day after Barlow's team locked up the 2018 Ivy League championship and one day before the NCAA selection show, which was yesterday. Barlow's team has come such a long way since it opened its season getting swept in the Midwest by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Bradley, and the result was an outright championship and a return trip to the Midwest, to take on Michigan Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The winner will advance to take on seventh-seeded Notre Dame in the second round Sunday.

Princeton is an easy team for which to root, largely because of its coach. Don't think that his good nature makes him any less competitive. Not in the least.

Finally on Sunday evening, it was Barlow's turn to speak. He gave much of the credit for his success to those around him, especially his assistant coaches through the years, including current associate head coach Steve Totten.

Barlow, in typical fashion, also said that he wasn't sure he deserved all of the praise that had come his way. He also spoke about something that he was proud of, and it was very telling.

He mentioned the wide variety of guys who come to his program - from all over the country and the world, high school All-Americas and walk-ons, guys with racial differences, guys with political differences, guys with religious differences, guys of different sexual orientations, guys who play a lot for four years and guys who hardly get on the field. And he talked about how he usually has a roster of around 30.

And for all of that, he said, very few of his players have ever walked away.

That is something to be proud of, no doubt. It made TB wonder if Barlow ever considered how much of the credit for that situation he himself deserves, that he has created.

Barlow sat at the front table, with his brother and his wife PK, with whom he has formed a fairly perfect partnership. In the audience were people from Princeton, and from every other part of his soccer life in Mercer County.

They were there to honor a man who has touched everyone of them in the way that he does. Certainly TigerBlog wouldn't have missed it.

For one night, Jim Barlow would just have to deal with being uncomfortable. It was for a good cause, after all.

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