|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XXII NUMBER 1 Fall 2006|
Old Saybrook’s KSC Connection
Who says you can't go home again? Certainly not Sam Barnes '88 and Kara Suhie '99. Both former Owl athletes returned to their hometown of Old Saybrook, Connecticut, where they serve not only as high school teachers and coaches, but also as role models for the youth of the community.
Now in his 12th season coaching the boy's soccer team at Old Saybrook High, Barnes is also the town's youth services director. Suhie, set to begin her sixth season as the Rams' field hockey and softball coach, serves on several state athletic committees and is department chair of the district's computer science program.
Both have received strong support from the school's administration. "You couldn't have asked for two better role models," says Patt Burke, the school's athletic director. "Whether they're on the field or out in the community, they have gained the respect and trust of both students and staff."
While Barnes was initially looking for a teaching position, he decided to take a job as a police officer. When the youth officer position in Old Saybrook opened up, he took it. "It was a perfect match," Barnes says. As the town's youth officer, he is assigned to the high school, where he hosts school assemblies for guest speakers, teaches law-related education classes, and works with the DARE program.
During the soccer season, Officer Barnes becomes Coach Barnes. "It's unbelievable how the jobs complement each other," Barnes says. "The police uniform can be very intimidating at times. When I'm out in the soccer field, it's a whole different world. Kids come up to me for advice and tell me stuff I'm not sure I want to know. It's more than just being a coach. I'm part of their life."
Although he didn't see much playing time for the Owls, Barnes, who jokingly refers to himself as the 23rd man on the team, credits Coach Ron Butcher for imparting a sense of discipline, which Barnes passes on to his own players.
"The players are at a vulnerable time of life," Barnes explains. "I can provide a certain direction. As the youth officer, I also have the community's pulse and know what's going on with their kids. I think parents like that."
Barnes, who tragically lost his father, Jim, to a collision with a drunk driver, knows how important it is to be a winner both on and off the field. Prior to the season, players sign an agreement to keep out of trouble. The message is clear from the start. "They know if they violate it, I'm going to find out," Barnes says. "It might take me a day, but sooner or later I find out."
Kara Suhie was offered the hometown position in her first job interview out of Keene State. "I knew the school and the system, so the transition wasn't difficult for me," she says. Suhie, a former Owl All-America softball player and all-region field hockey back, uses several KSC coaching techniques with her Old Saybrook teams. "I've taken a lot from Charlie (Beach)," Suhie says. "Everything I did in college, my softball kids are doing now." As far as field hockey is concerned, Suhie reports that her teams start the season by running Coach Amy Watson's infamous gauntlet.
Suhie and Barnes get together in Old Saybrook to reminisce about their Keene State days and to confer about coaching. "I always chat with him," says Suhie, who recently received her master's degree in computer science from Sacred Heart University. "It's nice to have someone to use as a sounding board for ideas."
Barnes, who attended Suhie's induction into the KSC Hall of Fame in 2004, has high praise for his fellow Old Saybrook coach. "I'm proud of what she's accomplished, and the fact that she's a KSC alum makes it all the better."
Suhie and Barnes take pride in how they interact with their athletes. "I don't think high school athletes of today are any different from those in my high school years," Suhie says. "The biggest change comes from higher expectations."
"You always hear the bad stories in the media, but 99 percent are good kids," Barnes adds. "As a coach, you get to know a lot of good kids."
Barnes appreciates effort as well as talent. "I [would] rather have 11 players that give 100 percent than two or three all-stars and the rest just hanging around," he says.
Both coaches have had their share of success on the field and have sent several players into the college ranks. Suhie has led Old Saybrook field hockey and softball teams to a pair of state tournament berths. In 11 seasons under Barnes, the Rams have made nine tournaments trips, including two appearances in the finals. Barnes, named the state's police officer of the year in 1997 and soccer coach of the year in 1998, has yet to receive a disciplinary yellow or red card.
As far as Barnes is concerned, winning is not the main goal. "I think it's more important that the kids take away a lesson and learn about life skills," he says. "If you start cutting corners to win a game, you're not teaching kids the right lesson."