Barth integral to Summit High’s rugby success |

Barth integral to Summit High’s rugby success

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Summit Daily/Mark Fox

FARMER’S KORNER – Karl Barth enjoys people trying to guess his age. Most aren’t very accurate, and even if they were, it’s unlikely he’d admit to it anyway.

As he stood in the falling snow last week at the practice of his Summit High girls’ rugby team, it was no different.

“Old enough to know better, but young enough to still do it,” he joked as his only hint.

Really, it’s the energy and enthusiasm he shows with his girls on the pitch and his students in the science classes he teaches at the high school that make it difficult to guess that he’s 44 years old (sorry, coach).

“It’s easy to feel young at heart with 50 daughters running around out here,” he said, pointing out to his team warming up.

It also makes it a bit easier when you can avoid the gray hairs and wrinkles that normally come with a coaching job: Unlike most coaches, the one thing Barth has never had to worry about is the stress that comes with losing, because, well, he hasn’t done much of it.

In the 12 and a half years since he started Summit’s rugby program in the spring of 1997, the Barth-led Tigers have won two national championships, six state titles and are unbeaten again this fall, outscoring their opponents 407-7 in seven games. Barth has also had a number of his players go on to play for college teams and the U.S. National Team.

The more amazing feat, however, may be how the program has gone from just seven girls in the inaugural season to 49 on the roster this season. Since 1997, more than 200 girls have played rugby for Summit.

“Early on if you told me that we’d have winning records and championships, I wouldn’t have been that surprised,” Barth said. “If you told me there’d be 50 girls playing? I would have probably said, ‘Yeah, whatever.’ That’s the most surprising thing is how much the program has grown.”

Barth’s start in rugby wasn’t exactly what some might expect. Growing up on the East Coast, Barth’s focus was on lacrosse, which he wound up playing in college at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

It was at RPI, though, that Barth first discovered rugby.

“I went there to play lacrosse, but all my friends and roommates played rugby,” he said. “Then I took a break from school, and that spring, I went to a rugby game and kind of got thrown in. I was going to watch my friends, and they were like, ‘You know you’re playing, right?’ So, I was given like three rules and thrown right in.”

And he was hooked.

During his time off from college, Barth moved to Vermont, where he sought out the local rugby club and began playing regularly.

He didn’t take a stab at coaching until years later when he started up classes at Johnson State College.

“The team there needed a coach,” he said. “They asked me to coach and I did. At the time,

I had a really good coach, he was the coach of the U.S. Women’s team that won the World Cup. … I leaned on him for some advice.”

Barth coached Johnson State for two years, graduated and then headed west.

It was the fall of 1995 when Barth first moved to Summit County, originally helping a friend run a restaurant in Breckenridge.

“I wasn’t going to be teaching that year, because I moved out in the middle of it,” Barth said. “So, I figured I’d just work and ski.”

The following fall, he got a teaching position at the high school, and it wasn’t until the spring that he first roamed the sidelines for the Tigers.

The school was looking at starting both a boys’ and girls’ rugby program and looked to Barth due to his experience, well, sort of.

“They knew I had lived in Australia, so they assumed I knew rugby,” said Barth who lived with his family Down Under for two years growing up. “It’s funny, because I lived in Melborne, which has Aussie Rules (Football). … I told them that, funny enough, I knew rugby but not from living in Australia.

“I told them if they got the kids together, I’d coach them. And they did.”

Summit started that first spring with seven girls and 16 boys. The boys’ team disbanded a couple years later, but the girls’ team flourished.

The Tiger girls won state and national titles in the spring of both 1998 and ’99.

Summit senior captain Bri Barto credits Barth with her success in her career. After randomly deciding on playing rugby as a freshman, Barto has been named to the Colorado

All State Team and the U.S. Under-20 National Team.

“A lot of coaches can just look at a team aspect and how the team can build around a few players. Barth looks at each individual player,” Barto said. “We have practices, two times a week, where he has us working on things for our individual positions and what we need to work on. He does it with everyone, not just the best players.”

And, Barto said, Barth’s personality easily rubs off on the team.

“Every team that he coaches has been successful,” she said. “I think that it’s his love and passion for whatever sport he’s coaching. We can just see it everyday … and it comes off onto his players which is really cool.”

Asking any player on this year’s Tiger team what makes them so dominant, they’re likely to say the team’s chemistry. Junior Alex Cooper describes her team as “a big family,” thanks in large part to her coach.

“He’s a really genuine coach,” Cooper said. “He really cares. If you are having a bad day, he spends time with you after practice trying to figure out what’s wrong and what he can do. He actually cares about you and not just winning.”

Even though it may make him realize his age, looking back on what his players have accomplished – not on the pitch but in their lives after they graduate – is what Barth said makes his job as a teacher and coach so rewarding.

“It’s just cool to watch them grow and develop, especially the ones that I’ve had since freshmen,” he said, scanning the snowy field at his practice.. “They were just squirmy little freshman, kind of annoying, but to watch them grow and develop confidence, it’s amazing to watch.”

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