John Barber has a new high school football team to coach.
His old team might not have a season to play later this year.
After eight seasons leading the Holy Trinity program, a merged team centered around Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons in Schenectady, Barber was officially appointed last Wednesday as Troy High School’s varsity football coach. Barber inherits that role from Bob Burns who — after leading the Flying Horses to three undefeated seasons and two state championships in six seasons — was hired in June to coach football at CBA.
“We’re so excited. We couldn’t be happier with coach Barber,” Troy athletic director Paul Reinisch said Monday of the hire. “To have somebody as respected as him, as successful as he’s been, and somebody who is a person of tremendous integrity and has a second-to-none work ethic, we were very fortunate he had an interest in us.”
A significant reason for that interest, Barber acknowledged, is the uncertain status of football at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons. The school had participated in recent years as part of a merged football program — often with great success — but that arrangement ended after last season, leaving Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons to play on its own for the 2021 fall’s season.
“If we were able to keep the program going at Holy Trinity with the three schools, I’d probably still be there,” said Barber, who most recently coached a team made up of players from Bishop Maginn, Catholic Central and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons. “But the schools decided to disband the merger, and there aren’t enough kids at Bishop Gibbons to play.”
For now, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons remains on Section II’s Class D schedule, but the school appears unlikely to play football this upcoming season. Barber said the school had fewer than 10 kids interested in playing football, and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons athletic director Pat Moran said the school will first need more kids to express an interest in playing before the school hires a new coach and OKs a fall season.
“We would need 10 or 12 more kids for me to feel comfortable,” Moran said.
Section II football coordinator Bob Dorrance confirmed that Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons had not yet officially canceled its fall 2021 season, and Moran said such a decision wouldn’t be made until some point in August. Deadlines have already passed for Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons to engineer a new merged program for the upcoming season, but Moran said he is “already in talks” with other schools regarding a merged program for the 2022 campaign.
With Holy Trinity, Barber built one of Section II’s best small-school programs of recent years. Before being unable to complete the second half of the “Fall II” season played earlier this year because of a lack of healthy players, Holy Trinity regularly fielded winning teams and recorded its best season in 2017 when it advanced to the Class C state championship game. Barber also guided Holy Trinity through the program’s toughest moment, when its fieldhouse on the grounds of Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons was destroyed in a fire days before Holy Trinity played in its first-ever playoff game.
“We didn’t just lose a coach,” Moran said. “Troy is getting someone special. . . . John’s a great individual. He treats every kid like his own child. I couldn’t have asked for more from a coach. He is going to be missed.”
During its best years, Holy Trinity’s roster included nearly 50 players. Barber said it was “very sad” that the program was unable to continue.
“That’s my biggest regret, is that we weren’t able to sustain the program,” Barber said.
Prior to leading the Holy Trinity program, Barber coached at Castleton State, RPI, Hudson Valley Community College and Schuylerville High School. At Troy, Barber said some of Burns’ coaching staff remains in place; from the Holy Trinity coaching staff, Barber said he brought Will Headen and Colton Barber — who served as defensive and offensive coordinators, respectively — to Troy with him.
Troy finished undefeated last season, and capped its season with a 50-3 win against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake in the Section II Class A championship game. After graduating a large number of seniors from that team, John Barber said “there is going to be a rebuilding process” that needs to take place at all levels of the Flying Horses’ program.
“But we’ll definitely be very competitive this year with the kids that are there,” Barber said.