Former coach Mike Barry finds joy working with inner city kids

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Former coach Mike Barry finds joy working with inner city kids

After coaching high school, college and professional football for 37 years, Mike Barry has discovered an even more rewarding occupation -- working with hundreds of high poverty, low achievement kids in the inner city of Chicago to provide positive direction in their lives.

Barry, 65, works for the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), a Chicago-based non-profit organization that partners with the Chicago Public Schools to manage several chronically underperforming elementary and high schools.

Founded in 2001 by Martin Koldyke, a venture capitalist and founder of the Golden Apple Foundation, AUSL's mission is to turn around Chicago's most underperforming schools by improving student performance and achievement through a disciplined transformation process that is built on a foundation of specially trained teachers.

Teachers like Mike Barry. A 1964 graduate of Fenwick, he played center for John Jardine's 1962 Prep Bowl championship team. He attended Nebraska for two years, then transferred to Southern Illinois, earned a Masters degree and started coaching.

He met then SIU athletic director Gale Sayers at a golf outing in Urbana and began a coaching career that took him to SIU, Arizona, the USFL, Iowa State, Colorado, USC, Tennessee, North Carolina State and the Detroit Lions with current Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. He coached at national championship teams at Colorado and Tennessee and a Rose Bowl winner at USC.

After Marinelli was fired in 2009, Barry returned to Chicago. He planned to retire. But fate intervened. Barry was speaking at a clinic on the South Side and Phillips athletic director John Byrne asked him to speak to some elementary school youngsters in his neighborhood.

"Would you come to camp for one day and work with our offensive linemen? Would you consider working with high schools?" Byrne asked. "Orr High School on the West Side has a chance to get in the state playoff. They really liked you. You connected with their kids. Would you help them?"

Barry met the Orr coach, who asked him to take a tape home and critique it so his team could prepare for its game with Whitney Young. Barry went over the film with the Orr players, telling them what they had to do.

"The coach gave me a hat and jacket after the practice and asked me to coach the kids during their game on Friday," Barry said. "I thought I was coaching in the Rose Bowl. I was coaching the kids like it was a college game."

As it turned out, Koldyke and Bryne were in the bleachers. "Who is that white guy on the sideline?" Koldyke asked. "I want to hire him to run our athletic program." He hired Barry in February, 2011, to be the AUSL's athletic coordinator for extra-curricular sports. So much for retirement.

"I love what I'm doing, working with kids," Barry said. "We have 20 teams that play every Saturday morning in Chicago. We have football and girls volleyball in the fall, boys and girls basketball in the winter and baseball and boys and girls track and field in the spring. The difference between us and CPS is we have tackle football and hard ball in the elementary leagues."

He started with Wright Junior College, now Chicago Academy, and soon added four other high schools -- Orr, Phillips, Collins and Solario -- and 20 elementary schools.

"They are high poverty and low achievement areas. We keep gangs out of the schools. Thirteen percent of the kids are homeless. They have no address when they fill out an eligibility form. The stories remind you of Michael Oher," Barry said, referring to the Baltimore Ravens' offensive tackle who was the subject of Michael Lewis' best-selling book.

Why did Barry choose to get involved?

"I was sitting in Chicago and had had a great career, all a man could want...bowl games, national titles," he said. "But I wanted to give back to the sport that was so good to me. To see the look on these kids' faces when you give them their first set of pads and helmets or their first baseball glove, things they had never been given before, is so rewarding."

Barry points out that until AUSL came along, these kids didn't know how to play football or baseball and couldn't go to parks to participate in sports. Now, on Saturday afternoons, AUSL sponsors three football games at Douglas Park and four at Solario High School at 55th and St. Louis.

"There are little problems that these kids face on a daily basis...drugs, gangs, guns. I had to buy underwear for one kid. We feed them in the summer for lunch," Barry said. "They live it every day of their lives and we try to get them to play sports, study and eat right.

"We make them believe that they can make a difference, that they can climb out of the hole they are in, that they don't have to wait for someone else to do it. The most important thing is to persuade them to get out of bed in the morning and go to school and get an education, then play football.

"It's a constant battle with the kids. It isn't a right, it's a privilege they earn every day by going to school. Sports is a carrot for the kids, a reward at the end of the day for going to class. It keeps them out of trouble, something to do after school. It gives them a team to be a part of rather than a gang."

Barry is as motivated as he was when he played for Fenwick's championship team 50 years ago. "I get up every morning at 5 and go to exercise class so I can maintain my energy level. My goal this Saturday is for all 25 schools to show up and the buses and officials and no one to do anything goofy in the stands. I don't care who wins or loses. I want them to show up on Saturday and have fun," he said.

Blackhawks preparing for EPIX all-access look leading up to Winter Classic

Blackhawks preparing for EPIX all-access look leading up to Winter Classic

The 2017 Winter Classic featuring the Blackhawks and Blues is right around the corner.

Players from both sides already squared off in a game of NHL 17 to generate some hype into the game, but nothing compares to behind-the-scenes footage of the two teams leading up to it.

Beginning Dec. 16 at 9 p.m., EPIX will air a one-hour episode each week that provides an all-access look inside the lives of the Blackhawks and Blues, on and off the ice.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

The game will be on Jan. 2 at 12 p.m. on NBC, with the final episode airing Friday, Jan. 6.

Here's a two-minute preview involving the Blackhawks, who are labeled "A Good Bunch of Guys."

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer reflects on Blackhawks days prior to 'One More Shift'

Steve Larmer took the pregame spin, part of the Blackhawks’ “One More Shift” series on Friday night. High above him at the United Center hang several retired Blackhawks numbers.

As of now, Larmer’s No. 28 isn’t among them, but he’s OK with that.

“I think that really is reserved for very special people,” Larmer said.

OK, but isn’t he one of those in the Blackhawks’ history?

“Thank you, but I think that Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito and Denis Savard and Keith Magnuson and Pierre Pilote are kind of in a league of their own,” he said.

Many would say the same about Larmer, who ranks fourth in Blackhawks history with 923 points, third in goals (406) and fifth in assists (517). Over his entire NHL career Larmer played in 1,006 regular-season games, recording 1,012 points. But whether or not his number is retired by the Blackhawks, coming back for events, including Friday’s, is a treat.

“It’s nerve-wracking and it’s going to be fun,” Larmer said prior to his spin on the ice. “It’s really quite an honor and a surprise to me to be able to do this and I just, it’s a great organization and they’ve always been great to me. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Larmer put together a stellar career. Many believe it deserves a retired number here – and maybe more. Blackhawks play-by-play man Pat Foley, when accepting the Hockey Hall of Fame’s Foster Hewitt Memorial Award in November of 2014, spoke immediately on how Larmer should be in the hall, too.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“I’ve been fortunate enough to call Blackhawks hockey for over a third of the games they’ve ever played and I’ve never seen a better two-way player come through here,” Foley said that day about Larmer. “When Steve Larmer left Chicago and went to New York, it’s no coincidence that shortly thereafter, they won the Stanley Cup.”

Larmer laughed when reminded of Foley’s speech.

“Well, Pat’s a good friend,” Larmer said with a smile. “He’s always been a good friend. For the last 35 years, since the early 1980s when he was doing radio and TV back then and we all traveled together and hung out together and it was one good group. It’s fun. I mean, Pat’s always been a big supporter and a really good friend.”

Larmer would’ve loved to have hoisted the Stanley Cup during his time with the Blackhawks. Coming as close as they did in 1992 stayed with him for a bit – and it hurt.

“That stung deeply. Because you’re starting to get older and you’re thinking, ‘oh my God, that was it, that was the chance and it’s freaking gone,’ right? It’s never going to happen again,” Larmer recalled. “I’m not one of those guys who happened along and all of a sudden you’re on a team and you win like the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. We lost out to the team that always won, right? It was disappointing that way. But when you get to that point and you have that run, then we lost to Pittsburgh, that stuck with me for a year in a half. I couldn’t let it go. It was always in the back of my mind. You’re out there playing and you’re sitting on the bench and still thinking about that.”

So when Larmer got another chance with the New York Rangers – he was dealt there in a three-way deal involving the Rangers, Blackhawks and Hartford Whalers – it meant everything.

“The neat thing about going to New York is it gave me another chance to play with some great players and have that opportunity to win and finally get over that hump,” he said. “It was a neat city to win in and to be able to play with guys like Mark Messier and Leach and all those players was a lot of fun.”

Larmer put up fantastic numbers in his career. He got to hoist a Cup near the end of his career. His number should be in the rafters to commemorate that great career.