By Rick Sheek
Her resume speaks for itself.
The 1988 NCAA indoor track and field shot put champion was inducted into the Southern Conference Hall of Fame in Asheville last week.
“I was impressed with the people already in the Hall of Fame,” Barker said on Monday. “It is an honor to be inducted into it. It was a nice surprise.”
This was the fourth SoCon class. A 1984 Elizabethton High graduate, Barker competed for East Tennessee State from 1987 to ’89.
Still in its budding stages, the SoCon Hall already includes such greats as Arnold Palmer, Jerry West, Lefty Dreisell and Gen. Robert Neyland.
After beginning her collegiate career at Eastern Kentucky, Barker flourished upon a transfer to Johnson City. She was a three-time SoCon shot put champion. That included twice indoor and once outdoor.
The crowning achievement was capturing the ’88 NCAA indoor shot put championship. She was a two-time All-American.
“I use to watch her in the weight room, and the football players would come in and then disappear,” legendary ETSU coach Dave Walker said. “No doubt they got out of the room because they didn’t want to be embarrassed. It was funny.
“She was a young lady, pretty good sized, but nothing like the some of the women competing in U.S. shot putting. She was strong.”
Barker still holds the SoCon indoor shot put mark of 54 feet, six inches. She joined the ETSU Hall of Fame in 1997.
Walker recollected on that special day in Indianapolis when Barker established herself as the nation’s best. There was no room for improvement for her in the latter rounds.
“She popped that first one and it was over,” Walker said. “The big girl from Texas, and another one from Arizona State, took one look and knew it was over. She threw fairly consistent, but she was so pumped up she was thrown out.”
The late Tom Roberts served under Walker and headed the women’s program. Walker said the fact Barker stood less than 6-feet tall, and incurred a pair of serious knee injuries in her career, derailed her shot at the U.S. Olympic team.
“It was great so see,” Walker said. “She was so strong. She looked like a little girl that might be about 300 pounds. She wasn’t, and she had some power.”
There were 250 nominees for this year’s SoCon Hall class. It was cut to a final list of 45, and chosen by panel of 20 media members and league administrators.
“She was such a competitor and such a hard worker,” former Elizabethton coach Jim Presnell said. “We worked out seven days a week, and I told her a long time ago I coached her harder than anybody that I’ve coached in my life. She’s the strongest woman I’ve every known.”
In her days at Elizabethton, her prep coach said Barker could bench press 315 pounds to also out-shine the members of the school’s football squad. She won state championships her sophomore year (1982) in both the shot put and discus.
“I’ve never known such a tremendously hard worker and competitor,” Presnell said. “She was very explosive.”
But the following year saw Barker suffer an ACL injury in basketball. She applied for a medical redshirt and missed the 1983 school campaign.
She bounced back strong. In 1984, she repeated as state champ in the two events. Her marks in the shot put (47-4) and discus (155-8) still stand.
In fact, Presnell recalled that Barker repeatedly broke the state record in the ’84 state meet when she toed the line.
“It was one of those days that doesn’t happen very often for anybody, but it was fortunate for us,” Presnell said. “I felt like her and I made a good team. She did everything I asked her to do.
“She worked hard and was prepared. It was a good day for everybody.”
Another knee injury during college, this time during summer softball action, for the most part spelled the demise of her track career.
“You’ve got to have your legs when you’re a shot putter,” Walker said. “She knew it was over. She tried to get back out there, but it was nothing like she had been throwing. She was great.”
Barker gave thanks to not only Roberts, but graduate assistants Roberta Kuzeolla and Randy Baumgardner.
“I was pretty happy about my move down to ETSU,” Barker said. “They did a great job working hard with me. The people I had around me were a big part of it. I had good teammates and I enjoyed my time at ETSU.”
Presnell insisted it wasn’t just the bad knee which kept her from the Summer Games.
“If she had been a little bit taller she’d have been in the Olympics,” Presnell said. “She was just a little short for a world-class thrower.”
Other members of this year’s SoCon Hall class were Percy Beard (Auburn track), Dick Modzelewski (Maryland football), Paul Scarpa (Furman tennis) and Jim Burch (official).
“It’s a strong conference,” Barker said. “It’s actually a strong conference to be in. I feel good about being part of that conference with the schools and high-caliber athletes I competed against.”
Barker remembered, from her youthful days, strong support from Sonny Hunt, Patty Simerly and Judy Howard.
“Coach Presnell started with me as a freshman, and he was an actual thrower,” Barker said. “We worked together pretty good. He taught me a lot.
“As much as I wanted to work, if I hadn’t had him I wouldn’t have gone as far as I did by any means. I had a lot of big supporters who helped me get through a lot of hard times.”