BY J. LIGHT
His passing was tragic, mind numbing to his family and friends. When 17-year-old Matt Barker died from injuries in an automobile accident in July of last year it was as if the very breath of life exuded from Paden City High School itself.
A member of the incoming senior class of 2013, Barker was one of 22 seniors planning a summer of fun before buckling down and tackling his responsibilities as an upperclassman. When he passed, students, faculty, family, and, in fact, the entire Paden City community mourned their loss together.
"He was a joy to be around," a teacher at the school said at his funeral. "He loved life."
"Matt was a friend to everybody," said a student at the same gathering.
"He always had that smile on his face, and it made you smile when you saw him," said another.
People said he was fun, he was funny, he was kind and soft hearted. He was unselfish, fair, and the guy you wanted to sit next to on the bus or on the bench. But few people spoke of him without mentioning somewhere in their conversation of the wide joyous smile that was the trademark charm of his personality.
"He was such a pleasant kid to be around," said Brent Croasmun, the head coach of both the varsity football and baseball teams on which Barker participated. "You couldn't be mad at him because he'd look at you with that big grin of his, every time."
"I'd say, 'What are you grinning at Barker?' And he'd just keep on smiling and say, 'Nothing coach'."
"He was one of those kids that other kids wanted to be around, he treated everybody the same and wanted everybody else to do the same thing."
Which is why he is remembered so fondly by his peers.
Not wanting their classmate to be forgotten, and to cement his memory as one of them forever, students at the school designed bright orange shirts and rubber wrist bands to wear soon after his death, deeming them part of "Barker's Crew" forever.
"They came up with the idea, had them made, and wore them on certain days in Matt's honor," said PCHS Athletic Director Fred King. "Everybody handles grief in different ways, and this is how his friends chose to remember him. I think it says a lot about how much they thought of this young man. They don't want to forget him."
"When something like this happens it hits hard, and it's not something you can get over or ever forget about. We have a very small school here, he was part of their daily lives, he always will be. We have lost others in the past too, we don't forget about them either."
"This was a tough one to deal with," Coach Croasmun said. "He wasn't the best athlete on the field or the fastest, and he knew that, but he had so much heart and was the kind of athlete every coach wants on their team. He rooted for everybody, always talked the guys up, was a team player."
Last week, the Paden City Park and Pool Commission recognized Barker's dedication and exceptional commitment to his teams by placing a plaque in his name at the Paden City ball fields immediately before the first home game of the season.
The varsity baseball and softball teams were in attendance at the dedication and solemnly watched the short ceremony honoring their classmate, teammate, and friend. There were a few tears, some far away looks, and there were smiles . . . which have become Matt's legacy.
While he indeed left the world to soon, Matt Barker remains very much in the minds and in the hearts of those he left behind. His legacy is one of laughter and kindness, joy and the celebration of life, both on and off the field of play.