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Stevenson: Hampshire coach Barnett calls career ‘gratifying’

Twenty years ago, Bob Barnett was McHenry’s boys basketball coach and his team had just suffered through its fourth losing season.

Barnett, who was 33-72 at McHenry, was fired as coach. Now, Barnett considers that a career-changing moment.

“One of the best things that happened to me was getting fired at McHenry,” said Barnett, who is in his 11th season as Hampshire’s boys coach. “I didn’t think so at the time. I got to clear my mind a little bit, then I went to Hinckley-Big Rock and built a program.”

In 19 seasons coaching since then, Barnett’s teams have had two losing seasons. And Barnett, whose career mark is now 423-295, is headed to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on April 27 in the Bloomington-Normal area.

Under the current rules, 400 career victories qualify a coach for the IBCA Hall of Fame. Barnett filled out the proper forms after hitting No. 400 last year and will go in in April. It has been a great season for Barnett, who survived two heart attacks on the morning of Nov. 20, the day the season opened. The Whip-Purs are 17-3 overall, 6-1 in the Fox Valley Conference Fox Division, one-half game ahead of Crystal Lake Central.

“I’ve been blessed, I’ve been fortunate,” Barnett said. “I’ve had a lot of great kids. There’s always some bumps in the road, but it’s been incredible. [Assistant] Ben Whitehouse has been with me all 11 years here, [former assistant] Steve Ream was a part of it too. When it all comes to fruition, it’s very gratifying.”

Barnett played high school basketball and baseball at Oregon, Ill. and started his coaching career at Franklin Center.

“I never thought about [the IBCA Hall of Fame] when I started doing it 26 years ago,” Barnett said. “Nobody stays in it this long anymore. The pressure and stress, it’s a tough business to stay in. It’s been an interesting trip.”

Barnett still considers Dennis Kessel, his high school coach at Oregon, a mentor. For the year between McHenry and H-BR, Barnett worked as an assistant with Kessel at Mundelein. He said he learned more in that year than in any other he has coached. Barnett used to joke with Kessel that someday he would get his records.

Kessel had to miss Barnett’s 400th career win last season, but he attended the next game and presented Barnett with a plaque commemorating the milestone.

“He said, ‘You got me,’ ” Barnett said. “It was funny, but surreal.”

Nice surprise: Richmond-Burton cross country coach Keith Forth arrived for a clinic at Oak Park-River Forest High School on Jan. 12 and received quite a surprise.

“Harvard coach Brett Willhoit walked in and congratulated me,” Forth said. “I said, ‘For what?’ And he said I was Coach of the Year. I had never looked.”

Forth had read the itinerary for the Illinois Track and Cross Country Coaches Association clinic, but had not looked further to see he was the Class 1A Northern Division Boys Coach of the Year. R-B’s boys finished fifth in the Class 1A boys race at the IHSA Cross Country State Meet in November.

R-B’s James Kaht was 19th, earning Class 1A All-State honors. Forth looked at the times and discovered the Rockets were a combined 20 seconds from finishing in third place.

Forth now has his Coach of the Year plaque hanging on his basement wall with other memorabilia.

• Joe Stevenson is a senior sports writer for the Northwest Herald. He can be reached by email at joestevenson@shawmedia.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @nwh_JoePrepZone.

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