ITHACA – Duane Barrett’s “day job” gives him a unique perspective on the relationships that develop between a coach and a player.
The 45-year-old Barrett is a counselor at the MacCormick Secure Center, the Brooktondale facility that serves juvenile offenders up to age 21 who, while younger than 16, committed certain violent felonies and were convicted and sentenced in adult criminal court.
“Prison guard” is how he jokingly refers to his role at the center, although it’s much more than that.
“We’re a little bit different from a correctional setting,” he said, “in that we actually have to mentor, counsel. Every aspect of our clientele’s day-to-day routine, we manage it. There’s the education piece, behavior, mental health — you name it, we do it.”
Barrett, whose Newfield boys were in the state Class C top 10 for much of the season and fell two victories short of the program’s first state title, said his full-time job absolutely informs his approach to coaching.
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“That’s definitely impacted the way I’ve been able to relate to the kids and deal with the different attitudes and capabilities,” said Barrett, this year’s Elite 10 Boys Coach of the Year. “A lot of the guys like to pull me aside or text me or call me about issues outside of basketball. And we’ve developed some really good bonds and relationships.
“I’ve got kids that I coached years ago that still call me,” he said. “Dani Almonte (2004 graduate and two-sport star), we probably talk three times a week.”
Barrett, a 1987 Newfield graduate who played on the only Trojans team to make a state title game, guided this year’s squad to a 20-2 record, the Interscholastic Athletic Conference Small School title and the Section 4 Class C crown. Newfield stormed out of the gates, winning its first 15 games before falling to Watkins Glen, 49-35, on an emotional Senior Night at the WG Field House.
Newfield evened the score on the Senecas in the sectional final in Binghamton, recovering from a third period in which it was shut out, 14-0, to beat the Glen, 53-48.
The Trojans’ journey ended one game later, however, in the state regionals in Oneonta. Facing top-ranked, then-undefeated Waterville, Newfield struggled to make a basket of any kind early on, falling into a 19-4 hole from which it could not escape and lost, 54-41. The loss did little to take the luster off an otherwise remarkable season, one Barrett says was a product of togetherness.
“They had a chemistry, a natural bond, outside of basketball,” said Barrett, whose roster included his nephew, IAC Small School South MVP Brian Barrett, and first-team all-star Devin Cooper, a junior forward and Barrett’s godson.
“There was a core group of guys — Brian, Cole (Banfield, junior point guard), Devin, Dekhari (Stewart, senior forward),” he said. “That group of kids, and a couple of others, had a bond. And they’re all very good students; the ones I named, I swear, most of them are high honor roll kids. I buy student-athlete awards every year, and this will be one of the years that I’ve probably purchased the most.”
Barrett split his youth between Ithaca and Newfield, his mother moving the family out from the city when he was in “fifth or sixth grade,” he said. That is a road taken by several of his current players, including his nephew, who moved from Ithaca three years ago and lives with his father, David, Duane’s younger brother.
Both played on the 1986 Newfield team, coached by Gary Emerson, that lost six regular-season games before getting hot at the right time and in the state Class D final lost to Bridgehampton, 94-57. The following year, the Trojans lost to Davenport in the sectional final in a game that those on the team still talk about.
“We were beating that team by probably 18 points,” Barrett said with a laugh. “We subbed a few guys, tried to play it off a little bit, the team (Davenport) got back in it and we ended up losing by two. … We talk about it every time we get together, and we always blame Gary for subbing. It’s like, ‘We had that team beat!'”
In 1998, Barrett was approached at a Newfield football game by the late Norb Schickel, who coached basketball at the time, asking him if he’d ever considered coaching. That’s all it took to reel him in, Barrett said. After coaching the modified for two years and JV for one, he took over the varsity and has been there ever since.
He also assisted with the football program for awhile under head coach Don Clark, helping the Trojans win the 2001 sectional title and play in the state quarterfinals against Onondaga Central and future Michigan running back Mike Hart. OCS held off Almonte and Newfield, 20-14, en route to the first of their three consecutive state titles.
“I’ve always been fascinated by (coaching), always enjoyed it,” Barrett said. “And once I got into it, I was hooked.”
To watch Barrett work the sidelines is to see a man fully involved, passionate about the game and his kids. He offers no apologies for his courtside manner.
“I guess some people might say I wear my heart on my sleeve a little bit,” he said. “But when I see what a kid is capable of, I’m going to push him to make sure he gives all he’s got. Obviously, that doesn’t work for every kid, so there are other kids or situations where we’re a little bit more low-key.”
This year’s success is made even more impressive by the fact that the team played its first seven games without the 6-5 Cooper, who broke his ankle in a November intrasquad scrimmage and missed six weeks. The forced timeout from basketball was Cooper’s first since the end of the 2013-14 season, Barrett said.
“Literally, he didn’t take a break from the end of last season on, between all-star and AAU teams,” the coach said. “That really shook us all up just a little bit, but at the same time it allowed for other kids to grow and learn to pick up the pieces while he was gone.”
In 14 seasons, Barrett has guided his alma mater to a record of 186-111, with four IAC division championships, three overall IAC titles and three sectional crowns. His teams are 1-3 in state playoff competition, the lone victory coming in 2005 over Section 3’s New York Mills in the Class D regionals at SUNY Cortland.