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Knox Christian's Barry eager for homecoming vs. University High

Trey Williams • Apr 23, 2014 at 4:18 AM

Former East Tennessee State baseball player and student-assistant coach John Barry is looking forward to a homecoming of sorts at ETSU’s Thomas Stadium on Saturday.

Barry is the coach at Knoxville Christian, a program in its second season. The Knights will play University High at Thomas Stadium in a noon doubleheader Saturday.

“Going back to ETSU will be awesome for me,” Barry said. “That’s a great stadium .”

Barry said an ankle injury cost him any chance at playing after he transferred from Milligan College to ETSU for his senior season in 1997, but then-ETSU coach Ken Campbell was an invaluable part of a long line of influences. Barry played Little League for the late Doc Whitmore. He said their Pepsi team won the city championship when he was nine in 1985 thanks to players such as Ron Frankowski and Billy Gentry. “We went berserk after we won,” Barry said. “I remember looking at Doc and there was just a smile across his face. He’d been so nervous he couldn’t stand it (in a tightly contested game), and finally that quirky smile he had set it off and we just went crazy.”

Barry’s father, John, coached for Whitmore before coaching the Jaycees. He said his dad still coaches travel ball, though a knee replacement might cost him this year, and Barry still consults with his father.

“We’re mostly sophomores — a very young team,” Barry said. “I told him, ‘They’re driving me crazy. We struck out 10 times versus Anderson County the other day.’ And he was like, ‘You’re not making it fun for those guys.’ So that was my goal. And all of the sudden we have turned it on, just because these guys are cutting up and having fun.”

Barry played at Science Hill for Bob Dempsey, and said he was several years behind exceptional players such as Hanes Torbett, Chip Rhea and Todd Anderson. His family moved to Kansas when he finished high school, and he he played two years in junior college there before returning to East Tennessee to play for Milligan College.

The late Lyn Jeffers, who Barry had known when he lived in Johnson City, introduced him to then-Milligan coach Doug Jennett, whose staff included former MLB pitcher and current Detroit assistant Ed Hodge.

“What a great guy that guy is,” said Barry, who laughed recalling Hodge discussing lefthanded showers. “I said, ‘What are you talking about, lefthanded showers?’ … He said (when he played) he liked to get a left-handed shower, where he could lean up against the wall and have the jet hit his left shoulder. … The nozzle had to be on that side where he could lean to the right, rather than falling through the curtain.”

Barry’s memories from his time at ETSU include the Georgia football players heckling heavyset reliever Chris Skidmore during a game in Athens and the long home run Rusty Swackhamer hit when Barry was pitching batting practice in 1998 when he was a volunteer assistant.

“Swackhamer hit one that landed in the end zone of the football field (Memorial Stadium),” Barry said. “It was still going up over the lights in right field. I yelled at one of the pitcher-only guys, ‘Go find that ball and tell me where it landed.’ And they came back and said it was three-quarters of the way on the other side of the end zone. That’s the furthest ball I ever saw hit there. It was a bomb.”

Barry works as a chemist at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. He said the opportunity at Knox Christian came while working as a hitting instructor at Diamond Simcox Baseball Academy. He also began coaching the Farragut middle-school team in 2010.

Knoxville Christian went 20-6-1 last season and finished runner-up in the National Athletic Christian Association tournament in Dayton, losing to Faith Baptist Christian (Brandon, Fla.) in the championship.

“I never thought we’d get 10 wins, let alone 20,” Barry said.

The Knights are in the Southern Christian Athletic Association this season with Maryville Christian, Rhea County Academy, Oakwood (Ga.) and Cleveland Christian. Ultimately, plans are to be in the TSSAA.

Knoxville Christian is 13-6 and could avenge on of those losses tonight at Hardin Valley. Knox Christian lost 7-6 at home to Hardin Valley earlier this season, and Barry plans to throw his ace, Eric Nolan, tonight.

His Nos. 2 and 3 starters, Anthony Crowder and Cas Willborn, respectively, are expected to start against the Junior Bucs.

“Having an all-turf field is something special for the boys to play on,” Barry said. “The boys are looking forward to it and I’m looking forward to it.”

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