Year in Review: The coach, the team and the heartache

11:13 AM, Dec 25, 2010   |    comments
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Kyle Kasper wasn't his son, but it didn't matter. Kyle sure did seem like a son. Barber treated all of the kids on his Merino High School wrestling team that way. He listened to them all talk about their girlfriends, their ex-girlfriends and their daily struggles.

He was the one who had to tell most of them the horrible news, on Christmas Eve for goodness sake. One by one, he called them on the phone, told them the news, and then listened quietly as the boy on the other side of the line cried.

Kyle was going to be missed. The 16-year-old who loved to tell people what was on his mind was certainly going to be missed. The car accident on that icy road had crushed everyone on that team and in that town.

So, yes, Coach Barber could have said no when I asked him if photojournalist Anne Herbst and I could follow his "boys" for a few weeks.

He didn't say yes right away. He wanted to make sure Kyle's teammates would approve of the idea. Kyle was their friend. In some cases, he was a best friend. And you don't just go telling a stranger about the sudden death of your best friend when you're in your teens.

A few days later, Coach Barber called me back and said OK. He only asked us to try to do one thing.

He and the rest of the team wanted to make sure we tried to honor Kyle.

So, for the next few weeks, we traveled around parts of the state that many people in Denver never have the fortune of seeing. We went to Merino. Less than 200 people call the town home.

The high school has 90 students. A third of the boys are on the wrestling team. The town is known for putting out some really talented athletes. A month before he died, Kyle Kasper was on the high school's state championship football team.

We went to Ordway, down in the southeastern part of the state. We listened as the announcer said, "Next on the mat, 160 pounds."

That was Kyle's weight. Every tournament brought with it a reminder of the hole in the team they would never be able to fill.

"Our goal has to be: something good has to come from something bad," Coach Barber said that day. He told us that every day we videotaped his team. "Something good has to come from this."

We also followed the team and the coach as they made their way to Denver to participate in the Colorado High School Wrestling Championships at Pepsi Center.

Seven members of the team made it to state, including Coach Barber's own son Wyatt.

It's not exactly journalistically responsible for Anne and me to say we rooted for that team that weekend. But we sure as heck did.

We rooted for their 103-pounder nicknamed "Peach." We cheered as Devin Hase scored an early pin. We laughed when the guy they call Sasquatch picked up Coach Barber after a dramatic win.

Honestly, it was hard not to cheer for this team.

So, it was also hard to watch some of the losses. It was hard to see Wyatt Barber and Tuff Gibson lose in their championship matches. They both had to settle for second, a great accomplishment for sure, but they were both clearly disappointed.

But, nothing really prepared us for the final match.

You'll have to watch the story to see what happened then. Let's just say Anne and I were pretty choked up about the whole thing.

So, thanks Coach Barber and the rest of the team for saying yes. We only hope we captured the essence of your incredibly difficult season. And we hope that in some way we honored Kyle.

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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