PRINCETON -- A stirring, emotional eulogy from Tate VanHooser, Will Barnes, Tony Franklin and Gary Bartlett. Kenny Chesney's "The Boys of Fall," Garth Brooks' "The Dance" and Brad Paisley's duet with Dolly Parton "When I Get Where I'm Going." All reminders of a well-lived life. Dozens of former coaches and players, including some rivals, on hand. An entire school, its community and its football team, most of them clad in the Blue and Gold of Caldwell County. And 2 Timothy 4:7-8.
This was Wednesday's funeral for David Barnes.
A nearly-packed CCHS Gym celebrated "a kid from Fredonia," who wound up following his dreams of building a family, coaching football at Daviess County and his hometown Tigers -- then spent time helping out as many others as he could, before his sudden death stemming from a battle with Parkinson's disease on Saturday.
VanHooser, a junior linebacker for Caldwell County and the last of three brothers to play for Barnes, noted he's going to miss heading to his old coach's room during school for a peppermint, only to be asked: "You chasin' any women today?"
But like most relationships Barnes had with his players, he and VanHooser's was much deeper than funny quips.
Last Friday, following Barnes' collapse at the Hopkins County Central scrimmage, VanHooser, Ben Holt and Russ Beshear went back to Madisonville to visit their coach in the hospital. Talked about football. Dissected parts of the scrimmage.
And talked about life.
"He said, 'Get my boys ready for Friday night,'" VanHooser said. "So we said, 'We've got you coach, we've got you.' We were giving him fist bumps and shaking his hand. And he looks up and looks all three of us in the eye, and he said, 'You've got my back?'
"And we said, 'Always, coach.'"
'He believed hehad his dream job'
His son. His three-year starter at quarterback, before the days of coaching guys like Blake Hodges, Elijah Sindelar, Shane Burns and Joby Jaggers. And then, his offensive coordinator.
Will and his father had a strong relationship surrounding more than football, though it was clearly part of the nucleus. He'll remember running dad's "Wing-T" sets in pickup games growing up, conversations on the bus coming home from games, or the stories and jokes stemming from Sunday film sessions.
But most importantly, he'll remember a man about Princeton, who had his dream job up until his final moments.
"Mom and I would get frustrated sometimes, because if we went to Walmart or a restaurant, he had to talk to everybody he knew," Barnes said. "Which was literally everybody.
"... He believed he has his dream job, right here working with kids at Caldwell County. He fought to the very end so he could continue to do what he loved, which was working with and coaching kids in our community.
"Dad told me, 'Sometimes you can learn more from kids than you might think.' This has been evident in the last few days, as messages have poured in from current and former players. Some of the comments that stood out the most were that he 'was a second father' to some players, or even the 'father figure' they never had.
"Hearing or reading these messages made me realize that what these players got for part of their lives, I was lucky to get for my entire life."
A coach for 39 years with an offensive scheme that bears his name, Franklin still claims to be "just a redneck from Caldwell County."
He also loved Barnes, who played with Franklin on those Tiger teams in the late '70s, then kept in touch with one of his best friends while making stops at Calloway County, Mayfield, Mercer County, University of Kentucky, the Lexington Horsemen, Troy, Auburn, Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech, California, and then back to Murfreesboro.
Fittingly, Franklin drafted seven points relating from his memories and interactions with Barnes over the decades of their friendship.
• Gratitude and Thanks: "I never had a conversation with him in which he didn't give thanks. He was thankful for his wife, his son, his mom, his dad, his brother, his players, his teachers, his fellow coaches. Those Sunday morning phone calls with Joe Morris. Every Saturday the conversation I'd have with him after getting my butt beat somewhere."
• Toughness: "David Barnes is the toughest guy I ever saw. David Barnes didn't feel pain. David Barnes overcame everything. I used to think he wasn't human, because the hits that he could take and go back and play. He was tough as a coach, competitive will. He'd fight at the drop of a hat. He was ready to go."
• A movie star: "David Barnes wrote a movie. And it's called 'life.' He was the star. He wrote the script."
• Do good for people that could never repay you, as long as they live: "You have no idea what David Barnes did for people, that nobody ever knew (about). And he did it because he loved humans. And he taught me about love."
• The quality of your life is based upon one thing, and that is the response: "We don't get to choose sometimes what happens to us. You guys don't get to choose this. Tate didn't get to choose walking in and seeing his coach before he had his last breath. But everyone chooses their response. You're in complete control of what you do next, no matter what happens."
• Finish: "One person can change the world. If you don't believe that, look in this room right now."
• Family/Team first: "You've got to have something bigger than you."
In the late '80s, Barnes served as an assistant baseball coach under Bartlett at Daviess County.
It's during this time Barnes earned his famous nickname, "Nikki," and Bartlett retold the tale of a team trip to Panama City, Florida, in crisp detail.
"On the first Sunday that we were there, I always took the coaches out to eat," he remembered. "We went to eat at a place called 'Spinnakers,' and it was on the beach. There were four of us at this table, and this little elderly man who had probably been drinking all day walked over to our table and approached each one us and said 'What's your name, and what do you do?'
"We told him. David was the last one that he got to, and I can remember this like it was yesterday. David had on a blue shirt that had 'Nike' written on the left chest. He looks at David, and in his inebriated voice, he says, 'Hey, Nikki, what do you do?' That name has stuck with David all these years. You can go to Bowling Green. You can go to Owensboro. You can go anywhere and mention 'Nikki' Barnes, and they'll know who you're talking about."
"Nikki," however, was more than a coach, and Bartlett captured everything that had been said up until that moment.
"I want to talk about the man that bought kid's lunches, if he found out that they didn't have lunch money," he noted. "He set up an account in the cafeteria, that had money all the time in it for kids that if they didn't have money for lunch. They could go and sign off on it, and get their lunches free.
"Everything Thanksgiving and Christmas, he was out delivering food baskets and Christmas gifts to needy families.
"He'd stay late after practices, just to make sure everybody had a ride home, and as you know, he was always there to take them home.
"At Christmas time, I don't know how many times he went out and took kids shopping because he knew they wouldn't have anything at home.
"David was a friend of kids. He made time for them. He helped them and made them feel good. David would stop by special needs classes two to three times a week and interact with them, and they loved him. He was a coach that you could always talk to, and a coach that always cared. He was a coach I'd want my son to play for."