Bryce Barton was given the keys to the Crawfordsville athletic department at a very young age.
But he had everything working in his favor.
He was an Athenian through and through. His grandfather Bob Barton, a longtime athletic director at Crawfordsville, helped form the Sagamore Conference. His father Mike Barton, worked almost his entire career for Crawfordsville, including as the Tuttle Middle School athletic director.
And Bryce Barton himself had three years of AD duties at Tuttle under his belt when he was named Crawfordsville High School athletic director at the age of 26 in 2001.
Barton took over for Bruce Whitehead, who in 25 years oversaw the expansion of many Athenian programs. He inherited a healthy situation and a number of veteran coaches with established programs.
As a young athletic director, Barton could have easily rode to a career full of successes without ever taking his job to the next level.
And he did start with a passive approach, but his advancement over the last 20 years was decades in the making.
Barton is now the dean of athletic directors in the Sagamore Conference and involved at the state level in a number of different ways, including with the Indiana Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
The IIAAA recently honored Barton with a State Award of Merit — showcasing the work he’s done not just to make high school athletics stronger in Montgomery County, but all over the state.
“He’s grown up in an athletic minded family,” Crawfordsville track and field, assistant football coach and assistant athletic director Sean Gerold said. “His Dad was an athletic director. He grew up in the gym. His grandpa was one of the founders of the conference. That mindset and mentality goes back a long ways in their family and how he’s grown up with that. And he just jumps if something needs done.”
Barton’s willingness to be patient and lean on veteran coaches out of the gate has helped him in the long-run.
“It was important that I tried to earn their respect through hard work,” he said. “And a lot of those programs had been established. Anita Rupar in tennis, John Froedge (baseball), Brian Norris (softball), Chris Ervin (wrestling) — so it was one of those where I didn’t want to come in and rock the boat. Bruce (Whitehead) had done such a great job before and had everything in place, so it was just a matter of me following suit and staying the course until I felt comfortable enough to be able to move forward with some of my thoughts and goals.”
Joining the IIAAA board has also helped Barton expand his network across the state.
“I think my experience being on the IIAAA board has helped me gain that confidence and a lot more networking,” he said. “Unlike coaching where if you’re going to steal something, you typically steal ideas from coaches that you’ve worked with before. As ADs, you share everything you can. It’s an open book for athletic directors if you want to get a new idea or new way to handle something, there’s always a group of experienced athletic directors to get that stuff.”
A level of confidence that he didn’t always have as a young AD.
“At first I tried to avoid conflict as much as possible. Tried to stay behind the scenes and just do my job and work hard, and I think my voice has gotten stronger over the years,” Barton added. “I’ve gone from being the young pup in the Sagamore Conference to the most experienced. So I can provide some guidance to those new ADs in our conference, and assume the leadership role.”
And that leadership has been felt throughout the area.
“He’s the ultimate professional,” North Montgomery athletic director Matt Merica said. “The guy works hard and takes pride in his job. He cares about the kids, cares about the community and he’s the longest standing athletic director in the Sagamore Conference. He’s a good friend of mine and we talk on a weekly basis about athletics and just about life. And even though he’s younger than I am, he’s a good mentor.”
All but one of the veteran coaches Barton inherited in 2001 has since retired. Kelly Johnson, who retired from teaching and her role as assistant athletic director last year, is still coaching volleyball — a position she’s held since the 1980s. Barton continues to take what he learned from leading veteran coaches like Johnson as a rookie AD and apply it to grooming the next crop of coaches. That includes Kevin Hedrick, who has the unique perspective of coaching swimming and diving at Crawfordsville after a stint at his alma mater in Southmont.
“I’ve had that pleasure here for the last 10 years to work very closely with him,” Hedrick said of Barton. “And I wouldn’t want to work with any other athletic director anywhere. The amount of pride he has at Crawfordsville and the amount of effort he gives and just allows us coaches to do our job. He facilitates and gives us everything we need, and then kind of lets us do what we need to do. He helps guide and is a definite educator and helps educate us along the way.”
And Barton’s ability to lead and care for continues to catch the eye of his coaches.
“Bryce is a very high character guy that works extremely hard, immensely well organized, and has a huge heart for the average or even less fortunate athlete,” Crawfordsville boys’ basketball coach David Pierce said.
Barton has overseen the growth of the cross country programs and the boys’ soccer programs — which have both enjoyed a number of Sagamore Conference and sectional titles in the last 15 years.
And Barton, who is a 1992 graduate of Crawfordsville and a licensed IHSAA official in soccer, basketball, and baseball, still believes there are things he can improve on as an athletic director and is always willing to take the next step.
“It’s fun to win titles, but it’s also a lot of fun to see young adults who want to come back and carry on a conversation and tell me what they’re doing with their lives and see those young student athletes develop over time,” he said. “I feel like I’ve started putting a lot of time getting to know those student athletes more and have those conversations so we can hopefully keep them in our community.”
Over the last 20 years Barton has been a strong asset for Crawfordsville athletics, but within the last decade — he’s realized that he can offer that same passion to athletes, coaches, and fellow athletic directors all across the state — and others have taken notice.
“Crawfordsville has been tremendously blessed to have one of the best to ever do it,” Pierce said. “And with this award, his peers across the state think so too.”
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