Phil Anastasia: Barchuk has found a home at Kingsway

Tony Barchuk has compiled a 186-143-5 record in 34 seasons as Dragons coach. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Tony Barchuk has compiled a 186-143-5 record in 34 seasons as Dragons coach. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer
Posted: September 13, 2013

Kingsway High School was like an awkward teenager yet to hit its first growth spurt when Tony Barchuk walked in the door in the summer of 1979.

"It was a little hole in the wall," Barchuk said of the tiny school nestled amid farmland that stretched for miles in every direction from the corner of Kings Highway and Route 322 in Woolwich Township. "I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' "

A Brooklyn guy who had been a standout running back at North Carolina State in the mid-1960s, Barchuk figured he had landed in the middle of nowhere. He didn't realize right away that he also was home.

On Thursday night, Barchuk will coach the 335th game of his career. He will start his 35th season as Kingsway's coach when the Dragons host Shawnee in a West Jersey Football League National Division game loaded with championship implications - and marked by the kickoff of a yearlong celebration of the burgeoning Gloucester County school's 50th anniversary.

As Kingsway celebrates its first half-century during yet another expansion project - "I think this is the fifth since I've been here, and the biggest one yet by far," Barchuk said - the coach who went 1-8 in his first season stands among the legends of South Jersey football.

Barchuk has coached more games than anybody in South Jersey football history except Florence's Joe Frappolli, who will start his 40th season when the Flashes host New Eygpt on Friday.

Barchuk has a career record of 186-143-5 - a remarkable run at a school that has blossomed around him even as he has sunk roots deeper and deeper into the rich soil.

"I've been very lucky, very fortunate," Barchuk said. "Great people around here."

Ask people about Barchuk, and nine out of 10 will echo the words of Kingsway assistant coach and former Deptford head coach Al Orio: "He is a piece of work."

It's a term of endearment. There's no pretense about the guy. Barchuk sounds the same today at practice as he did 25 years ago - barking in Brooklyn-ese about hustle and concentration, chastising his nonstarters for not racing out to serve as "bird dogs" in drills against the starting kickoff team.

"I am what I am," Barchuk said. "I'm not going to fudge it for anybody."

He's a throwback of a coach, not the kind to tiptoe around parents or school-board members. But beneath that hard shell, there's a guy who welled up with emotion when Kingsway hosted a recent luncheon for former teachers and administrators in conjunction with the ongoing 50th-anniversary celebration.

"I'm telling you, I had tears in my eyes," Barchuk said. "Those people gave so much to this school."

He still considers himself an "old Tri-County guy," even though his team is beginning its fourth season in the WJFL as the defending National Division tri-champions and a South Jersey Group 4 finalist.

But like the school around him, Barchuk has changed with the times.

"I'd like to say I'm still 'three yards and a cloud of dust,' " Barchuk said of the offensive philosophy that probably marked his first 25 years on the job. "But if you just sit there in your room and say, 'This is the way we do things here,' the herd is going to run away from you.

"The coaching is so much better now. Everybody is so prepared. Guys work so hard, spend so much time at it in the offseason. You have to work so hard to keep up, or you're going to get left behind."

So Kingsway spreads the field and throws the football a little more than Barchuk did in the past, and the Dragons try some blitz packages on defense, and the old coach tries to adjust to new ways.

He says his approach to his players is the same today as it was in 1979.

"You have to work them hard," Barchuk said. "You have to make them understand that they have to work hard, that nothing is easy. But you have to hug them, too.

"That's really what it is: You're hard on them, you yell at them, and then you hug them."

He still remembers his first game. It was at Clayton in September 1979. Back then, Kingsway and Clayton were natural rivals - two Group 1 schools in rural areas in Gloucester County.

"We won 14-12 on a pitch at the buzzer," Barchuk said. "They were like, 'Oh my God, we won, we won!' They thought I was Vince Lombardi."

He paused before finishing the story with a smile.

"Then we lost the rest of the games that season."

Phil Anastasia: 300-Game Club

Just six men have coached more than 300 football games in South Jersey. Two of them - Kingsway's Tony Barchuk and Shawnee's Tim Gushue - will be on opposite sidelines in Thursday night's WJFL National Division game at Kingsway.

Coach   School   Win-Loss-Tie   Gms.   

*Joe Frappolli   Florence   275-116-5   396   

*Tony Barchuk   Kingsway   186-143-5   334   

Dan Pidcock   Clearview   164-168-1   333   

*Paul Sacco   St. Joseph   266-55-5   326   

John Oberg   Delsea   230-67-16   313   

*Tim Gushue   Shawnee   201-97-6   304   

* - still active

- Phil Anastasia

Contact Phil Anastasia at Follow on Twitter @PhilAnastasia.

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