In the Rim Country and on the streets around small-town Arizona, Mike Barr is being remembered as the finest all-around athlete in Payson High School sports history.
He’s also being recalled as a fiercely loyal friend and a compassionate gentle giant who didn’t have the time on earth he needed to fully blossom.
Mike was 25 years of age when he died of heart failure July 14 in California.
His athletic exploits at Rim Country Middle School, Payson High and in local recreation leagues is the stuff of which legends are made.
During his high school career (2000-2004) at Payson High School he probably won more awards than any Longhorn athlete who preceded or followed him. He also set school records, attracted the attention of big city media, drew glowing plaudits from coaches and wowed the fans with his slam dunks in basketball, amazing one-handed catches in football and region-winning heaves in the shot put and discus.
But as serious as Mike was about sports, he always maintained a light-hearted, jovial approach to his storied accomplishments.
His friends and former coaches remember with tears in their eyes and a glow in their hearts that in 2004 Mike was involved in a confusing mixup at the Bradshaw Mountain Holiday Basketball Invitational. Following the tournament he was awarded a trophy to the All-Tournament girls team.
Most unusual about the faux pas is it would have been difficult to mistake Mike for a girl — at the time he was 6-feet, 7-inches, 235 pounds and had a full growth of beard.
It took Bradshaw Mountain officials more than a month to realize their mistake, but when it came time for Mike to return the girl’s trophy for a boy’s, he was a bit reluctant, dead-panning he thought it was kind of “cool” to have been named to an all-tournament girls team.
Mike took a lot of teasing over the incident, but responded only with a huge grin.
In that tournament at Bradshaw, Mike turned in some of his finest career performances scoring 23 points and corralling 20 rebounds in a win over Casa Grande. In a 62-59 victory vs. Chino Valley he scored a game-high 22 points that included a three-pointer and two free throws in overtime.
Roots at RCMS
Mike burst onto the sports scene as 6-foot, 3-inch fullback on the Rim Country Middle School Mavericks football team. Wherever the team traveled, Mike left tongues a waggin’ over his physically imposing stature and his ability to run over and through opposing defenses. Seldom did one player bring him down on running plays and, as a lead blocker on isolation plays, he sent many an opposing linebacker reeling into oblivion.
Most of the time, he sat out the second half of games as coach Bob Hoyt attempted to hold victory totals to a reasonable margin.
In a win over Whiteriver, he gave high school coaches a glimpse of his defensive prowess, returning an interception 35 yards for a TD and minutes later stripping the ball from the Rough Rider signal-caller and running it back 40 yards for a score.
In high school, he continued to rack up Herculean gridiron feats. In 2003, at the conclusion of his senior season, he was named to both the Class 4A/5A Arizona Coaches Association All-Star football game and to the Class 4A All-State team.
A week earlier he had been named to the Class 4A Conference Grand Canyon All-Region team as a tight end, defensive end and punter.
What rendered the feat most commendable is that he won the awards after missing some of the early season due to broken ribs suffered in an accident at Roosevelt Lake.
Most often, players who miss a portion of the season find it tough to earn post-season honors.
As a junior, Arizona’s most famed high school sports historian Barry Sollenberger, then the editor and publisher of Phoenix Metro Football Magazine, named Mike a member of the Class 3A All-State football team.
That was a huge honor because at the time Sollenberger was the most knowledgeable man in high school sports and being chosen by him was the gridiron equivalent to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
Mike’s high school football coach Jerry Rhoades remembers Mike well, “He was a hard worker, a very coachable kid and very, very talented.”
In basketball, Mike was a four-year letter winner and the Longhorns’ “go-to” player his final two seasons.
He used his height, bulk and strength to bull his way underneath the basket for lay-ups, rebounds and to dominate defensively.
Most any opponent who tried to drive to the basket for an up-close shot attempt, was risking his good health.
But true to his gentle nature, Mike never lost his temper or was involved in any altercations.
“Mike was never in a fight in his entire life,” his friend Ty Goodman told friends during a gathering last week to remember Mike.
A former coach listening in responded, “Think about it, who in his right mind would want to tangle with Mike?”
At the conclusion of Mike’s senior season, he was the only Longhorn named to the 4A All-Region basketball first team.
In track and field in 2004, he won the GC region shot put title with a heave of 48 feet, 1.25 inches and the discus, uncorking a throw of 158 feet.
Work wins out
Following graduation, Mike was heavily recruited by several colleges including Mesa, where coach Dan Dunn predicted he would be a star who could go on to play at a D1 school if he chose to.
Another coach wanted Mike to play both football and basketball in college.
But Mike didn’t take any of the offers, opting instead to work, usually in construction.
He, however, continued to build on his athletic exploits, winning town-sponsored Home Run Derby softball titles and hooking up with friends Denver White and Matt McRae to win the Tonto Apache 3-on-3 basketball tournament.
At the time of his death, he was working in the Napa Valley area doing underwater SCUBA repairs and new construction.
His fiancée, Rachel Joi Beeler, of Eagar/Springerville, remembers with a warm smile the day Mike signed on with the California company to do underwater work.
“They had to get him a size 7XL SCUBA wetsuit,” she said.
At the time of his death, Mike was 6-foot, 7-inches and 300 pounds with very little body fat.
“He was just big and wide, real wide,” said Mike’s father Les — a longtime local police officer.
Beeler and Mike met years ago during a Payson vs. Round Valley football game.
“He just walked up — started talking and it was love at first sight,” she said.
His parents are thanking the people of Payson for reaching out in the Barr family’s time of need.
“We are overwhelmed by the support and want to thank the community for what they have done,” Les Barr said. “It’s been unbelievable.”
Sadly, Payson has lost its gentle giant, but memories will always remain of the local boy who grew to be a man all the while living strong and setting the bar high for all those who will follow.