Watching Darrell Barnwell coach his Science Hill Lady Hilltoppers hours after his father Herschel’s death on Wednesday brought to mind the tragedy that Science Hill point guard Tianna Tarter went through in middle school.
Tarter led the Tennessee Lady Trotters to an AAU championship in May of 2010 on a weekend that began with her father, Lanny, dying from a heart attack. He was 37.
Tarter’s mental toughness cannot be questioned, and inspired by her coach’s gutsy appearance on Wednesday, Tarter produced 19 points and seven assists to lead Science Hill to its third straight regional title with a win against Tennessee High.
“His dad just passed away and my heart really goes out to him and his family, because I have been there before myself,” Tarter said in an email. “It’s hard losing a parent. He still managed to come coach our game the day his dad died. I really appreciate him, and he is so strong for doing that.”
Barnwell’s father was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2011.
“He was pretty good for a long time,” Barnwell said. “He was able to take — my mother’s not very well either, and he was able to still take care of her and things.”
Barnwell said Herschel’s condition worsened significantly the past 2-3 weeks. Father and son had one final quality visit last week at Barnwell’s parents’ home in Crossville.
“We drove up last Thursday because we knew it was getting close,” Barnwell said. “He was still able to talk to me and we were able to have about a three-hour visit, and … I got to say some things to him and he got to say some things to me. So it was a good visit for us. …
“My dad wasn’t an emotional type person, but you know, the thing that was probably the most pleasing to me was just the fact that he told me he was proud of everything I’ve been able to do in my life. So that meant a lot.”
Barnwell’s Lady ‘Toppers, the reigning state runner-up, are nationally ranked and No. 2 in the state.
“Coach Barnwell is an outstanding coach,” Tarter said. “He is very hard working, and really enthusiastic with what he does. … He got me to the place I am at right now with my basketball. I owe everything I know to him. He really is a great man. Even though I don’t show him how much I really care or even listen (lol), I honestly do care and listen to every word.”
Players and former players such as Milligan College teammates Johneshia Good and Jaimee Hill found more than a coach in Barnwell, too.
“Me and Jaimee talk about it all the time,” Good said. “He’s really more than a former coach. I consider him a confidant.”
Barnwell spent Thursday and Friday in Crossville, and will return for the funeral Sunday after coaching Science Hill against Farragut in the sectional tonight.
Barnwell’s father was a bridge inspector for the state Department of Transportation. Should Science Hill win tonight, the road through Crossville to Murfreesboro will be lined with his legacy – one that’s helped bridge a generations gap.
“Over the whole season Coach Barnwell’s mentioned him over and over,” Science Hill senior Enjelica Reid said. “We felt like we knew him. … It’s been a tough situation for coach. He’s a really strong man.”
Barnwell would like to think he can be as strong as his father has been the past year and a half.
“He battled really hard; I mean, he fought hard,” Barnwell said. “My sister and I talked about it a lot – he was just tired and it was time and he was ready. And I think he’s at peace now, and that’s the most important thing.”