When Harold Barker left his successful tenure as a state-winning golf coach at Whitfield, there was a purpose behind his decision. Barker wanted to eventually become an athletic director. Now, he is one.
Barker is the new athletic director at Priory.
“I finally have the chance to prove to myself I can do the job,” Barker said. “I don’t know how many schools have passed over me. Sometimes, I had doubts I could do the job. Now, I have the opportunity. It’s been a six-year journey for me to be an A.D. somewhere in town.”
Barker comes to Priory from De Smet Jesuit, where he has served as the assistant athletic director since 2017.
“I was really fortunate at De Smet that everyone was very supportive of what my goals were,” Barker said. “When I stated there three years ago, it wasn’t a secret I wanted to become an athletic director somewhere. It’s worked out.”
Barker went to De Smet Jesuit after leaving Whitfield, where he was the head coach for varsity golf for 18 years. He also taught math and science. His golf teams went to the state tournament 14 consecutive years. There were seven district championships. Moreover, the Warriors captured the state championship three consecutive years (2009-2011) under Barker.
“I was fortunate to be very successful at Whitfield,” Barker said.
During his career, Barker has been recognized by the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) and the University of Chicago for his excellence as a teacher and coach. He has extensive experience in the planning, organization and management of high school athletic events. He also holds a degree in biology from Washington University as well as a master’s degree in athletic administration from Ohio University.
“Just as impressive as his experience and credentials are the testaments to his professionalism, organizational skills and zeal for service that I have received,” said Priory headmaster Father Cuthbert Elliott in a statement. “Harold is passionate about the mission of our school and has a clear vision for the integral role that athletics play in forming the whole person, addressing adolescent anxiety, and imparting the essential lessons of teamwork and mutual support.”
Doing his due diligence, Barker said the principal at De Smet Jesuit asked him if he had heard about the opening at Priory.
“I haven’t applied for every job that opened up but this one had a good feel for me,” Barker said. “It’s kind of the best of both of my previous worlds. It’s an all-boys environment. The last three years at De Smet made it very appealing to me. It’s an upper-echelon school no doubt about it. When you look at amount of networking and support that goes on at that school and you see the high-achieving families there it’s a very appealing school. It’s similar to Whitfield – a high-level, college prep environment.
“For me, it was literally was the best of both worlds. I’ve had 21 years in the classroom. I’ve seen a lot.”
Barker is excited to help Priory keep growing. He knows several of the Rebels’ programs have been successful at the state level and would like every program to be in that category.
“I think they’re already there, especially when it comes to soccer and golf,” Barker said. “They’ve had a lot of success in recent years. That’s something to build on. (Basketball coach) Bobby (McCormack) is doing a good job in that program. I went to the district final at Westminster and they played a heck of a good game. Football is definitely up and coming. (Coach) Jake Parent is doing a really good job. It’s a matter of can we build it into something that will be a model of consistency.
“That’s the thing for me as a coach. We didn’t win it every year but we were playing for it. We are always relevant and knocking on the door. That’s my goal for all the Priory programs – to be relevant in every sport. We want people in town and across the state to know us.”
Barker is happy to join his counterparts in the Metro League.
“That was another alluring part of the job. The conference has the leadership and the ADs – the way they work together is amazing,” Barker said. “You look at the Metro League and you see it is prestigious and as high profile as the Metro Catholic Conference. It’s a tough league. If you can survive and get out of the league, you can play for the state championship.”
The coaching staffs at the school are good ones, Barker said. He likes the mix of young and veteran coaches for the various programs.
“I’m excited to help them grow and move along the established programs,” Barker said. “I want to establish a good rapport with the coaches and get to understand the community. Our numbers could be better in certain sports.
“The other goal is to develop a culture of developing leaders. I want coaches to hand select some guys for me to have a leadership council and develop leaders for tomorrow.”
John Paluka, the athletic director at De Smet Jesuit, helped prepare Barker for the opportunity.
“John just finished his 31st year in education and I’ve had 21 years,” Barker said. “We were able to bounce a lot of ideas off each other. The best thing about John is he’s receptive to me having my ideas. He was so supportive. If I had questions, he’d always be there. I felt like he trusted me. That’s the biggest compliment you can get. He knew I was waiting for the right time and right moment.”
Last year, Paluka became the offensive coordinator for the football team that went on to win the Class 6 state title. Busy with that, Paluka delegated more to Barker.
“In the fall, he’s doing that and he really needed somebody to kind of take the keys to the Cadillac,” Barker said. “I took over soccer and that’s big at De Smet. I (also) was the point person for the Friday night lights, making sure it was all smooth. I got to coordinate who sits in the press box and coordinate with the police and our security team. That experience was really, really helpful for me.”
Although he’ll be the A.D. at Priory, Barker is not putting away his whistle.
“I’m kind of looking of doing something at the junior school and helping out with basketball,” Barker said. “I’ve never coached those team sports. Being able to lead by example and get the whistle around my neck is important.”
Barker is ready for the school year to begin.
“I’m excited to work with the coaching staff at Priory,” Barker said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity. I’m looking forward to meeting the Priory community.”