It’s difficult to envision today as a great day with the loss of such an icon to the community. But ask anybody he was close to and that’s what Don Barcus would have said.
Barcus, a former Parsons High School and Erie High School football coach and teacher, passed away after a year-long battle with cancer at 8:10 p.m. Tuesday with his wife and family by his side. Barcus was 70.
Born on Feb. 24, 1950, Barcus first arrived at Parsons High School in 1977 as a history teacher and head football coach.
Barcus coached a variety of sports within the USD 503 school district over the course of his life, including football, track, cross country and wrestling at both the high school and middle school levels.
“Don Barcus was a wonderful, wonderful man. He’s made so many contributions ... to kids and to our Viking family,” said USD 503 Superintendent Lori Ray. “He’s always been so active in the lives of the children in our community. He was a genuine, compassionate and passionate guy.”
Barcus served within the Parsons school district as a teacher from 1977-2008 before retiring. Barcus then also served as a substitute teacher and had multiple stints on the high school football coaching staff.
“He was a mentor and a friend. The legacy he leaves makes Parsons a better place,” Ray said. “Our family is better for having Don in the family. He taught us about working hard. He expected that and held people accountable. He was kind and compassionate. He was a great guy and loved Parsons football.”
Ray recalled a time when Barcus and his wife, Janie, were giving away food to college students at Labette Community College.
“As a part of his outreach and through our church, he’d go to Labette Community College with a basket of snacks a couple times a week for college kids to stop by,” Ray said. “He was always checking on them. I was there with a group of students one time. I just watched him provide a listening ear for someone. One of our students said they knew him and recognized him as the coach. He just was always helping everyone. That’s who Don Barcus was.”
Barcus has battled cancer throughout the last year. The Parsons Vikings football team celebrated Don Barcus Night in Week 1 of last season, which the Vikings won in five overtimes over Iola.
“The outpouring of support from the community has just been awe-inspiring and overwhelming,” said Rob Barcus, Don’s son and the current athletic director at Parsons High School. “Growing up, you always think highly of your dad. Since I’ve gotten older, I realized how many people respected him. I couldn’t vacation anywhere in the country where he wouldn’t run into somebody he knew. People trusted him. What you saw is what you get.”
Rob said that his father instilled resiliency in him.
“He taught me a lot about humility,” Rob Barcus said. “When we moved here, he was the head football coach. He wasn’t very successful record-wise. But he didn’t leave town. He took his demotion and worked his way back up to defensive coordinator. He just stayed part of the community and put his roots here. As I got older, I appreciated that more and more.”
Barcus served as the head coach of Parsons football from 1977-80 and Erie football from 2008-09.
Kurt Friess, who was the head coach of the Vikings from 2018-19, played for Barcus at Parsons from 1982-84 before playing college football at Pittsburg State. Friess also had Barcus on his coaching staff in 2018, when Parsons won its first playoff games in 42 years and went 8-3.
“He was my hero and my role model,” Friess said. “He was the perfect combination of hard work, toughness, loyalty and was a student servant over a self-servant. There was never a student he didn’t find a way to connect with. He found the good in everybody and in every situation. He was almost too gentle a giant.”
Friess, who also serves as the principal of Guthridge School, sees the impact Barcus made throughout the community.
“Barcus DNA doesn’t just run through Parsons football, it runs through this whole town,” Friess said. “He was a great teacher and a great school board member. He’s as friendly and hard-working as they come. He was just such a ‘we over me’ guy. Don was so selfless. He put others ahead of himself.”
John Lawrence, who played linebacker and tight end for Parsons from 1981-83 before earning a roster spot with the Kansas Jayhawks, cited the impact Barcus made on his career.
“He was by far my favorite coach all through my career,” Lawrence said. “I always kept in touch with him. He cared about his players and got the most out of them. He was an incredible teacher and motivator. He really got the best out of all of us. Every time reunions came up, he was always the first phone call and he’d always made the trip. He’ll be desperately missed.”
Jeff Schibi, now the head football coach for Parsons, served as an assistant alongside Barcus in 2018.
“Don Barcus is Parsons Vikings football,” Schibi said. “Coach Barcus made men out of young boys. For me, I’ll never forget playing for him and the passion he coached with. It could be 40 degrees, rainy and 20 miles-per-hour wind but in his eyes, every day was a great day for football. He gave me coaching advice last July before he had to stop coaching and cancer took control of his life. I will cherish that conversation and use that advice for the rest of my career. He made a lasting impact on so many lives and his legacy will live on forever.”
But the legacy of Barcus can be summed up best by the man himself in a speech given to the Parsons football team just prior to the Don Barcus Night win over Iola to start the 2019 season, when he was forced to step aside from coaching.
“You can’t measure what’s here — what’s in your guts and in your heart,” Barcus said. “You’re furnished everything but guts. Everything is furnished. This town is pretty good to you. This school is pretty good to you. There are people behind you. But you guys have to produce. And it’s here. There’s nothing wrong with hard work. Hard work makes you better. And every day that you can play is a great day for football.”
Parsons and southeast Kansas has lost a great one in Don Barcus. I'm lucky and glad I was able to be in Parsons last fall on the day he gave this speech to the Vikings football program. I'll never forget it.@FootballParsons @EKS_Sports @PkVikings @JeffSchibi @koamfox14sports pic.twitter.com/CL7ma5qOQo— Jacob Lenard (@j_lenard) June 24, 2020