Ray Barron is no longer alive, but his aura surrounds Columbine wrestling.
There’s plenty of Barron, the longtime Colorado wrestling coach who succumbed to brain cancer in October at the age of 70, flowing through seniors Jack Forbes and Zach Schraeder as they head into this weekend’s Class 5A state tournament in Pueblo.
The Rebels wrestlers are aiming for consecutive titles — Jack at 195 pounds after winning at 182 last year, while Zach goes for a repeat at 285. And they’re doing it using their late coach as motivation, even though they won’t be able to jump into Barron’s arms at tournament’s end, as they did last year in Denver.
“We’ve done a lot of things to honor him this year,” Columbine co-head coach John Alley said. “Ray was a big part of their senior night, and we have his initials on a lot of our things, like on our shirts and on our gear. Jack and Zach both shared an unbelievable bond with Coach. It was something that definitely helped drive them last year, and it’s something that’s helping drive them this year as well.”
Columbine’s taken a picture of Barron to every meet and tournament this year, and the team breaks it down on that picture at the conclusion of every competition. And, in Columbine’s gym, Barron’s induction into the Colorado chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame has since been immortalized with a large banner.
Add in the fact that Luke Barron, Ray’s son, is the team’s other co-head coach after four seasons as an assistant, and the result has been a winter with no shortage of motivation for Columbine’s two top wrestlers or their coaches. Alley was also extremely close with Barron, having wrestled for him when he first got into the sport.
“By being involved in the program, I’m still with my dad everyday,” Luke said. “The program is as he developed it, and it was already set up with the kids doing the right things. Every time I go to work with these kids, it gets me in a good place, because this group knows when it’s time to work and they know when it’s time to have some fun.”
The Rebels hope there is plenty of time for both this weekend. Forbes and Schraeder are Columbine’s lone state qualifiers, although the Rebels would’ve had six more wrestlers in the brackets in a normal, non-condensed year.
Both wrestlers are 20-0 and starred in football for Columbine at defensive end as well as on the offensive side of the ball (Forbes at tight end, Schraeder at center). Both had close calls this season and both cited Barron’s lasting legacy as fuel for their journey.
“Whenever things get hard, or you’re in the dark place you can often get to while wrestling, I think about Ray and I get right back up where I need to go,” Forbes said. “His memory gets me running that much faster, gets me working that much harder.”
For Schraeder, the multi-sport Western State commit knew his old coach wanted him to be more aggressive as a senior, especially considering the target on his back as the defending heavyweight champion.
“I’ve gotten emotional sometimes before a match, but I normally keep my head a little bit cooler out on the mat,” Schraeder said. “Since the start of the season, I’ve been focused on, ‘Okay, this year is going to be different.’ I knew I was going to have to take more shots. I’ve been thinking a little bit more and I’ve been more (calculating), rather than just acting (on instinct) on the mat.”
Barron coached Colorado wrestling for nearly a half century, with stops at Heritage, Fort Lupton and finally Columbine. His teams won 495 career dual meets, and he had over 50 of his wrestlers place at state. He was named the Class 5A coach of the year in 2020.
And if you ask his son, the performance of the Columbine duo this weekend should be included, posthumously, on Barron’s coaching resume.
“I could only imagine the smile on his face if they win. He loved seeing kids have success; he loved seeing them work hard for a goal, and if they reached it, it was amazing,” Luke said. “If not, he was still super proud. That’s something that is not always present in society today… He wanted this sport to mold great young men, and we’ve already seen that happen with (Jack and Zach).”
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