When the Janesville Parker boys basketball team pulled up to the Wisconsin Field House for the 1971 state boys basketball championship game, the Vikings had a problem.
A parking attendant outside the venue refused to let the team park adjacent to the arena.
Dale Barry, one of the team’s assistant coaches, came up with a plan—per usual. Winter weather was making the day unpleasant, and Barry decided the Vikings weren’t going to be trudging through the snow to get to the state tournament.
“Dale says to the bus driver, ‘Open the door,’” said Dan Madden, also an assistant coach and Barry’s long-time friend. “He gets out, stands out in front of the bus and waves us: ‘Come on in.’”
The Vikings, of course, went on to win one of the most memorable state championships in local—if not state—history, beating Milwaukee King 79-68 to cap a highly improbable Cinderella story.
“It was fortunate he got us that (parking) spot, too, because there was almost a riot after the game,” Madden said. “We beat them, and they stormed the floor, and we had to get our fans escorted out.”
As a coach, athletic director, humanitarian and family man, Barry was known for his quick wit, organizational skills and desire to put others before himself.
Barry died Wednesday morning at the age of 86. He leaves behind a legacy that helped shape Janesville’s athletic community at its core.
Rising through the ranks
Dale Barry loved sports from the time he was a young child. He played football, basketball, baseball and tennis through his years at Janesville High School and Milton College until a knee surgery in 1953 relegated him to playing mostly golf and softball.
Barry’s coaching career began in Orfordville in 1956. As the boys basketball coach, his team snapped a 25-game losing streak before building all the way up to winning two of the program’s three all-time conference championships. On the baseball diamond, Barry’s Vikings team once won 40 straight conference games.
For his dedication in those 11 years as baseball and basketball coach, as well as eight years as athletic director, Barry was part of the inaugural Parkview Wall of Fame class in 2016.
In 1968, Barry became the first head coach of the Janesville Parker baseball program. The Vikings won the Big Eight Conference title in their first season, setting the stage for decades of success that continue until this day.
“He was kind of more easy-going than I probably was,” said Bob Suter, Barry’s long-time friend.
The two coached against each other when Suter was a head coach at Janesville Craig and teamed up together with Madden to coach American Legion baseball in the summer.
“All the kids always looked up to him and enjoyed playing for him,” Suter added. “I never saw him really uptight or really let anything bother him.”
Barry coached baseball and basketball at Parker until 1973. He later returned to the bench as a coach of the sophomore girls basketball team. The Vikings, under Tom Klawitter, won the first of their three state titles in 1993, when Barry was part of the program.
“He was my Legion coach, and he had a pretty big impact on me and all the guys we played with. He’s almost another father to me,” said Klawitter, who finished with three state titles at Parker. “So for him to turn around and work under me back then was kind of strange. But he was kind of the one that helped me get my career started in a lot of different ways when he was AD. I owe a lot to Dale.”
Guiding city sports
Barry took over as district athletic director in 1973 and spent 15 years doing his best to make sure the middle school and high school programs had everything they needed to compete.
He was instrumental in the addition of girls athletics, mandated by the federal government with the passage of Title IX in the early 1970s.
“He was so conscientious as the AD,” said Madden, who had Barry as his best man in his wedding. “He was great at helping young coaches get started. He’d be up at noon hour selling T-shirts or candy to try and raise money for the athletic budgets.”
Barry also spent time on the local youth baseball board. He was inducted into the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame in 1998 and was part of its committee from the beginning in 1990, said Dave Wedeward, longtime Gazette sports editor and the Janesville hall’s founder.
“He was involved with so much that it’s hard to believe—from refereeing and coaching to being AD and teaching,” said Terry Ryan, a former Major League Baseball general manager who played baseball and basketball for Barry at Parker. “He just had his hands in a lot of things that were beneficial to the entire youth of the city of Janesville. I’ve always been indebted to him for what he did for me.”
American Legion glory years
Many of the memories shared by Barry’s closest friends and family this week revolved around the American Legion summer baseball program.
Barry, Suter and Madden would have the dates of the state tournament circled a year in advance, Madden said.
“The Legion team is still popular,” Wedeward said. “But those were definitely the heydays.”
Barry had the privilege of coaching eight major league draft picks, and together with Suter and Madden they won a total of five Legion state championships (1968, 1971, 1974, 1975 and 1976).
“We looked forward to not only being with each other as players but being with him,” said Klawitter, now a coach with the UW-Whitewater baseball program. “He could get after you when he had to and certainly straightened me out when I thought I was a little better than I was.”
“Most players will tell you he wasn’t really the Xs and Os guy—that was Madden and Suter—but everyone says no one could promote like my dad,” said John Barry, now a sports writer for The Gazette. “He just had a love for baseball.”
Many fond Legion memories surrounded trips to Legion games in “The Belvy.”
Barry owned a Plymouth Belvedere station wagon, and players would pile in on their way to tournaments around the area.
Barry’s children—John and his sisters, Jackie and Jill—remember being forced to drive the station wagon well past the point where its reverse gear had gone out because Dale refused to get rid of his beloved vehicle.
“Delavan, Kenosha, that thing would take us everywhere,” John Barry said. “Once he got pulled over for speeding going to a game. And then he proceeded to get pulled over on the way home.
“I don’t think he got a ticket either time.”
King of the one-liners
That Dale Barry might have talked his way out of two speeding tickets in one day probably wouldn’t register as a surprise to those closest to him.
All who spoke about Barry over the past few days remarked about his penchant for one-liners and comebacks.
“His sense of humor was second to none,” Madden said. “He just had a knack for coming up with zingers. And the kids loved that, too.”
Barry also had one major quirk in his baseball coaching style. While most managers coach from the box adjacent to third base, Barry preferred to coach from the first-base box. He figured he’d see more baserunners there than at third base, Madden said.
“Sometimes he’d be chit-chatting with people who were giving him the berries up the first-base line,” Wedeward said. “Every once in a while, a guy on first would get picked off because Dale was chopping it up with the fans. But he was a heck of a good coach, no question about that.”
An example in the community
Barry’s sociable personality and desire to give back to the community extended beyond sports.
He donated 40 hours every holiday season as a Salvation Army bell-ringer, organized the Faith Lutheran Church breakfast club at Washington Elementary School and served on the board of directors for the local charity ECHO.
“He’d take cans to different businesses and try to raise money for ECHO, collecting the money out of them once a week,” Madden said. “And he loved ringing the bells during the holiday season.
“He got to see people, and he was a people person, so he loved that.”
And, perhaps more than anything else, Barry was a family man.
He and his wife, Joyce, married in November 1957. She died in 2012.
“He’d always tell me she was absolutely the perfect person for him,” Wedeward said.
And by spending so much time together on the diamonds and basketball courts, the Barry, Madden and Suter families, along with many others, enjoyed growing together.
“He was always organized, had a good sense of humor and had an answer for just about everything,” said Steve Ellis, who played for Barry and often joined him for lunch in the years since Joyce’s death. “I never saw the man get too excited or ever get too down, for that matter. He became a great friend and mentor for me.
“My wife, Nancy, and I always appreciated the relationship that he and Joyce had and the example they set with the love for each other and their kids.”
Barry will be laid to rest Tuesday, but his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of teachers, coaches and friends in Janesville and beyond.