Columbus native Wendell Barr accumulated a sparkling list of honors, both as a basketball player and coach, but his stellar career got off to a rocky beginning.
“I was cut from my seventh-grade team,” Barr saidd. “Michael Jordan and I have that in common.”
Jordan went on to become a basketball icon and Barr’s achievements have earned him a place in the Chattahoochee Valley Sports Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will take place Saturday at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. The other members of the Class of 2011 include Claude English, Joe Harrell, Dr. Champ Baker Jr. and Ron Yarbrough.
After a career at Central-Phenix City that twice earned him Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City honors, Barr excelled at Columbus State, scoring 801 points and leading the team to a 50-9 record over two seasons.
He coached in five different decades, winning 987 games and six state championships, four in basketball and two in softball. Barr began his coaching career with the Hurtsboro (Ala.) Red Foxes in 1968 and ended it at Patrician Academy in Butler, Ala., in the spring of 2008.
Bob Ellis is a retired coach and educator with the dubious distinction of cutting the future basketball star.
“It was a case of having so many boys and so few uniforms,” Ellis recalled. “It shows you how intelligent I was. He was very young and kind of quiet. As he developed, he became a smooth type of player.”
The upcoming ceremony marks the fourth such honor for the 65-year-old Barr.
“It was unexpected, but I was very excited,” Barr said. “I’ve kept up with the hall of fame for years. It’s usually for big-time names, like people who played in the NFL.”
Barr is also a member of the Chattahoochee Valley Community College Hall of Fame. He was inducted at Columbus State University and Huntingdon College on the same day.
“I got a call from Columbus College and they said I was going to be inducted,” Barr said. “A couple of weeks later I got a call from Huntingdon. They told me the date and I said ‘Uh, oh. I’ve already committed to be at CSU.’ It worked out that the one at Huntingdon was in the morning and the one at CSU was at night, so I got to go to both.”
Barr coached at the high school, junior college and college levels. His favorites were junior college and high school.
“I loved the skill level and competition at junior college,” Barr said. “I loved the atmosphere and the crowds. I also loved the involvement at the high-school level. Fans are very loyal to that school and that creates a lot of excitement.”
Barr has a kaleidoscope of memories from five decades of coaching.
“I remember my first state tournament-winning team at Twiggs Academy in 1979-80,” Barr said. “The year we won 33 games at Lakeside was great. That was a special group of kids. It was 1976-77, my last year at Lakeside. When my daughter Tara played for me at Woodland Christian was also special.”
Barr’s journey on the court began as an eighth-grade player at Central Junior High and ended at Huntingdon College in Montgomery.
Barr was a two-sport athlete at Central. His most vivid memory of those Red Devil days was one rooted in failure.
“I remember the first time we went to Tuscaloosa to the state tournament,” he said. “It was the first time I ever spent the night somewhere, and we got to stay the whole week. Back then it was a big deal. There were only two classes where now there are six. It was my junior year, and we lost the first game. So we got to watch basketball for a week. It made an impression.”
Barr was a two-sport athlete at Central and briefly at Columbus State, then a junior college.
“I played baseball the first year and then they dropped it my second year, I suppose because of finances,” Barr said. “My freshman year we played at Golden Park. Then they built a field across from the gym but dropped it. A year or two after I left, they brought coach (Charles) Ragsdale in when it became a four-year school.”
Barr calls his two years at Columbus State “the best two years of my life, in athletics and in general, too.”
He still keeps up with teammates Billy Pope, David Knowles and others who remain in the area.
Playing only basketball was Barr’s plan when he went to Huntingdon.
“I got there and I went out for baseball, too. I hadn’t planned to try out, so I had to borrow a guy’s glove and I used his glove to beat him. Eventually, I gave his glove back and had to buy me one,” Barr said.
Barr was co-captain of the 1966-67 basketball team at Huntingdon and was also the team’s leading rebounder.
Barr became a coach after graduation. He wasn’t the last Barr to star on the court.
Tara Barr Armistead is Doris and Wendell Barr’s only child. She married Michael Armistead in 1998 and, with their 1-year-old daughter, Tyler, was living in Butler, Ala. Tyler has since been joined by brother Barr, 7, and sister Kaci, 21 months.
Barr was happily working at Andrew College in Cuthbert, Ga., when his wife walked in the door and dropped a bombshell.
“She said she wanted to move,” Barr said. “She couldn’t stand to be away from the baby. I resigned my job and we sold the house,” Barr said of the 2000 move.
“We’ve been here ever since.”
Armistead saw her parents’ move as a huge convenience.
“They were coming every weekend anyway,” she laughed. “We’re a close family and I wanted them here. I wanted my children to grow up with their grandparents here. At one point they lived next door.”
Armistead enjoyed playing for her dad at Woodland Christian Academy.
“We had an amazing, unique relationship,” Armistead remembers. “He was my dad until I walked on to the court and my coach afterward. We always left it there, good or bad. I’d like to have talked about it home, but I had to drag it out of him. Now that I have children, I appreciate that. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
After the move, Barr went to nearby Patrician Academy and the administration created a job for him. He coached his last team there in 2008.
“I didn’t know it was my last game,” Barr said. “We were at the final four and lost on a last-second Hail Mary. I think of that shot often and wish I could take it back.”
Barr replaced his whistle with a desk, moving into administration at Wayne Academy in Waynesboro, Miss.
“Since I’ve been out of coaching, I really miss it,” Barr said.
“It’s been tough but these days it’s almost impossible to do both. That would defeat the purpose of moving. It would’ve made my sixth decade, though.”
Retirement is in the distant future for Barr.
“No thoughts of retirement,” Barr said.
“Unless somebody forces me.”