PARKER CITY, Ind. — About 25 people gathered outside the Monroe Central administrative building Wednesday night amid the uncertain future of girls varsity basketball coach Leigh Ann Barga. Players and managers, both current and former, parents and supporters came out for an impromptu rally as the school board held an executive session.
They held posters with messages like “Keep Coach Barga” and “Pro Coach Barga.” Another read “Coach, Mom, Friend, Role Model, Coach Barga.” One freshman player and her mom even had black T-shirts made that said “I stand with Coach Barga” in gold on the back.
“Do the right thing,” some of them said toward school board members as they trickled into the building for an 8 o’clock meeting.
The private executive session set the agenda for the upcoming school board meeting on May 8. The board will vote that night — the meeting begins 6 p.m. at the high school — on whether or not to bring Barga back.
Barga led the Golden Bears to a 25-1 record last year, including the first perfect regular season in program history, and is 66-11 with a sectional title in three years as coach, but there is growing speculation that her contract may not be renewed. Several varsity players and parents were contacted for this story. Not all returned that request, but those that did cited complaints about Barga relating to playing time and fairness as the reason her future hangs in the balance.
The Star Press also reached out to athletic director Chris Landis, who said he had no comment. Superintendent Adrian Moulton did not comment other than to say the varsity girls basketball coaching position is on the agenda. Barga declined to comment until after the board meeting. None of the five board members immediately returned an email Thursday.
Varsity players Kinzie Williams, Bailey Duncan and Mabrey Buis were at the rally Wednesday, while several others attended a basketball workout inside the school with Barga. More players plan to show their support next week.
There will be time for public participation at the meeting, and those wanting to address the board should give their name and the agenda item they wish to discuss to the president beforehand. The Monroe Central school board consists of Dan Pike (president), Brad Swallow (vice president), Andrew Wagner (secretary), Matt Deckman (ISBA delegate) and Patrick Patterson (member). Pike and Deckman both have family members on the team.
A 3-2 majority is enough to decide the vote, and some of those interviewed are 50/50 on which way it will go.
So how did all this begin? A player described it as a lot of drama during the season, mostly girls bickering, but that “seemed to be resolved.” It wasn’t until after the sectional championship loss to Frankton that things started building up and Barga’s future came into question.
Barga’s husband (Jerry) and brother (Dave Byrum) were members of her coaching staff. A source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that those two have been told they aren’t allowed back next season. Her son, Bracken, is currently the eighth grade coach.
This evolving situation comes on the heels of Carmel dismissing girls basketball coach Tod Windlan after a review by the athletic department. Players and parents said they were left in the dark after a statement was released saying “there is a need to change the direction” of the program, according to Indy Star.
New Castle gave the same answer when parting ways with volleyball coach Matt Curts after winning a state title.
“I think they would be absolutely crazy if they didn’t hire (Barga) back,” said Bob McGrath, who has had two daughters play for her. “It would be worse than the Carmel situation. With Coach Barga, I’ve never heard her cuss even. So it would be worse than that on a lot of levels.”
Bailey Duncan, a senior who averaged 4.2 points in 16 minutes per game, is leading a social media effort to keep Barga. She wrote a blog titled “The real Coach Leigh Ann Barga”, which goes into detail about how Barga has shaped the program into a family-like atmosphere and says “it would be a tragic loss to let a woman like this slip through your fingers.”
“I think that a lot of the players don’t want to be coached, and I don’t think any coach will please them,” Duncan told The Star Press. “And Coach Barga is the best coach they’ll ever have. So if they can’t get along or be coached by her, they’re going to have a hard time with anybody else because she’s going to be their best bet.”
Abigail McGrath, who broke the program’s all-time scoring mark last season, was one of several players that shared Duncan’s post on social media. McGrath has worked with Barga since third grade and considers her a second mom.
“You couldn’t ask for a better family,” McGrath said. “Just three or four weeks ago — I’m about to graduate, my senior season passed — she texted me and asked how I was doing, what my next plans are. It shows that she truly cares about her players.
“I think that’s the only way that a program will get better, if they have a coach that’s 150 percent in.”
Kim Williams, mother of Kinzie Williams, wrote “… for her to be disrespected by a few and put through this is awful. I’m not sure I’ve heard of a coach having the season she had (being) treated this way.”
Hannah McCollum, who appeared in 19 games as a sophomore, said she might consider not playing if Barga isn’t back.
“She’s obviously very good at what she does, and she cares for everyone on the team, treats them fairly and gives pointers about everything,” McCollum said. “Some people don’t agree with her style. But I think she’s the perfect person for the job.”
The future of the program will be decided on Tuesday.