Not entirely certain what was coming next, more than two hundred young people simultaneously rose to their feet just minutes before the rival schools they were there to support were slated to tip off a much-anticipated rivalry basketball game between South Pasadena and San Marino High Schools.
Kids can be funny that way, and their keen instincts were soon rewarded with an emotional ceremony that will live on through the ages as the #31 jersey of former Titan star athlete Matt Barbarics was officially retired.
Barbarics, a record-setting basketball player for former Coach Kevin Hall and CIF-winning pitcher under the tutelage of the late Mickey McNamee, passed away in 1995 after a battle with leukemia. He was nineteen.
Anyone who might question why it took so long to put Barbarics’ jersey on the wall might have walked away from Friday’s gripping event wondering how it happened at all as tears flowed freely from the many friends, family members and fellow teachers who packed Dingus Fieldhouse, so powerful was the love for Matt still apparent nineteen years later. His mother, Barbara, was a beloved English teacher at SMHS who recently retired.
“There is a sense of wholeness as a result of last Friday night,” Barbara Barbarics said. “The idea of wholeness seems odd although it is true. Loss and grief involve a very long good-bye that is never really over, but some good-byes give more closure. This was not ‘closure,’ but it was the gathering of pieces to make a whole where there had not been one. Having Matt’s jersey there in the gym is symbolic of his being where he loved to be. In a way, he is there. There is a wholeness in seeing his jersey on the west wall.”
Matt Barbarics was an outstanding two-sport athlete who two decades ago played an integral role in the resurgence of Titan basketball. As a junior, and member of the Titan varsity basketball team in 1992, he established a new season scoring record, averaging 22 points per game while leading the Titans to a 5th place finish in the prestigious Glendora Christmas tournament, a third place finish in the Rio Hondo League and a berth in the CIF Playoffs.
That spring, he was an integral performer on a Titan baseball team – coached by the late Mickey McNamee – that defeated Temecula Valley for the 1992 CIF title as Barbarics pitched a four-hit shutout in the championship game, capping a season during which his record on the mound was a perfect 5-0.
McNamee once said that Barbarics was quite possibly a better baseball player than he was basketball player – hard to fathom.
His passion, though, was clearly with basketball, a sport that he would dominate the summer of 1992. He led the Titans to a championship at the Bill Armstrong Palm Springs summer tournament. He would later lead his squad to the championship of the Glendora Summer League, a game that was played in front of coaching greats that included the late Rick Majerus of Utah and Mike Montgomery of Stanford. Matt attracted the interest of several Division I collegiate programs and was invited to participate in the nationally renowned Nike Superstar Classic at UC Santa Barbara, where the top collegiate recruits in Southern California performed.
“Matt touched people,” said Kevin Hall, a San Marino High School history teacher who coached Barbarics in basketball and helped make Friday’s ceremony happen. “His classmates really loved him. He was a pied piper kind of guy. guy. He was well-liked everywhere he went.”
“Barbs touched the hearts of the basketball players on his team and members of the entire program,” said former Titan Dan Loyd, a teammate of Barbarics. “He also touched everyone who had the pleasure of being at San Marino High School at that time. His personality and golden heart reached out to and affected everyone at the school in the most amazing and positive way.”
Hall called Barbarics’ fight against leukemia “his greatest display of courage.”
“The evening affirmed that Matt was blessed with ‘the best’ of teachers, coaches, and friends during his last years,” Barbara Barbarics said. “What a gift that was – and is!”
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