Barker to lead BBA wrestlers

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MANCHESTER — Having an assistant coach fill in for a departing head coach in itself isn't that big of a deal.

But for new Burr and Burton wrestling coach Sarah Barker, it's a bit of a change.

Barker is believed to be the first full-time female varsity wrestling coach in Vermont history.

"The transition [from] assistant to head coach is easier because I got to run practices last year, saw what that was like," Barker said after a practice Tuesday. "I saw the tournament side of being a coach and not just as a wrestler. Having a year under my belt helped a lot."

As BBA goes into its fifth year as a varsity program, the only coach it had known was Zach Monforte, a former wrestler himself at Warrensburg (N.Y.) But Monforte stepped down from coaching this season as his wife, Halley, was diagnosed with cancer in May.

"They opened the job up so I interviewed and they liked how I coached last year," Barker said. "They knew my goals and my coaching. After a little while, I found out I had the job."

Barker has a long history with wrestling. She started in fourth grade through the Mill River program, taken by her dad, who didn't think she'd stick with it. But she did, wrestling through middle school and high school for the Minutemen.

"I had one coach, Charlie Pritchard, through the whole thing," Barker said.

Barker graduated from West Rutland, but wrestled for Mill River as the Horde did not offer wrestling. After graduating in 2014, she took some time off with an injury before going to Springfield Technical Community College in 2015, where she wrestled for the women's team for the last two years. At STCC, she was fifth at the NJCAA championships.

"I got hurt in rugby my senior year [of high school], separated both shoulders, so I had to take a year off from wrestling," Barker said. "After I got healthy, there was an open tournament for anyone over 18, and I finished second and afterward, the STCC coach recruited me."

Barker said she's not really worried about any problems stemming from her gender, despite wrestling being an extremely male-dominated sport.

"I've dealt with it my entire life in wrestling," Barker said. "I was the only girl on the team, so I had that — oh, she's only a girl. But then you go out and prove yourself, it makes a big difference."

As an assistant last year, she knows most, if not all, of the coaches around the state. She said that she has had nothing but respect from the coaches.

"I was very respected, and coaches know who I am, so I can go up to them. Even with some of the new coaches, I used to wrestle them," Barker said.

Senior Nick Williams said he hopes the gender barriers disappear she's just a coach, the same as any other.

"Sarah is tougher than some of the male coaches the gender barrier doesn't need to go up because she's equal and there's no barrier there," Williams said. "She's just as [tough] as a male coach, she can yell at you just as loud as a male coach, so forget that barrier, she really knows her stuff."

Williams said Barker knows the personalities of her wrestlers very well, even in a short time.

"We all had goals at the end of last year, to place at states or come back from an injury," said Williams, himself dealing with a torn meniscus in February. "Having her can help us get to our goals, and she carries [Monforte's] vision for the program."

Barker just wants to be another coach who can help her wrestlers come out on top.

"It's fun working with the kids and it's fun to see them grow as a wrestler and as a person," Barker said. "Seeing them complete their goals, seeing their face when they reach it is the best feeling ever."

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