A 50 fixture in Jeep Country


SOUTH WEBSTER — For officially now a half-century, Rodney Barnett has been a man of many hats.

However, they’ve all been proverbially worn with one single and solitary school district.

That being Bloom-Vernon Local Schools, specifically South Webster High School — and it’s athletics and academic activities.

Barnett, a 1971 South Webster High School graduate, became the longest-tenured employee of the Bloom-Vernon Local School District —with the conclusion of the 2022-23 academic year.

He was also, recently and rightfully, recognized for his faithful 50 years of service to the district —which has included three-plus decades of teaching, two decades of coaching, three decades as Senior Class Advisor, and many years, months, days and hours of doing whatever and whenever was necessary to see SW succeed.

And, to spread the good South Webster word — for his official district title is Director of Communications.

“Just thanks so much to Rodney for his 50 years and hopefully more to come, and we appreciate all that he does. A lot of people can’t wait to get out, but Rodney has always found a way to stay in,” said Bloom-Vernon Local Schools Superintendent Marc Kreischer, who has been the district’s top executive for the past nine years now. “When you’ve worn as many hats as Rodney has over the years, it’s hard to summarize all that he means to the district and administration. But Rodney never left or really retired. He’s always found a way to continue to assist our district in academics, athletics, media..always has had his hand in that.”

A hand in, and a hat on.

A lifelong Jeep, the 70-year-old Barnett was a student in the district during the entirety of the 1960s —before earning Education degrees from Ohio University’s Portsmouth and Ironton branches in 1975.

He holds Elementary Education and Secondary Education degrees, with an emphasis in Language Arts and English.

He held a full-time teaching capacity for 31 years, the final 20 of which was teaching only English to seniors.

He spent the opening seven years at either Vernon Elementary or South Webster’s Junior High School —followed by two years exclusively teaching at the junior high level.

As a coach, he spent 20 years coaching basketball —17 for either junior high girls or boys, and the final three as Rick Bowman’s boys varsity assistant.

For 14 seasons, he was the baseball coach or assistant coach, and was the first assistant varsity softball coach at South Webster —with his wife Susan serving as the first head coach for the Jeeps.

Barnett’s other athletic adventures include assistant to the athletic director —which is currently Gabe Havens.

He is also the fiscal officer of both the South Webster athletic boosters and alumni association groups, and keeps the scorebook for the varsity boys basketball team.

He is also a media liaison for the district, in charge of ticket-taking at the gates, and often is responsible for the confirmation of officials for athletic contests.

“He (Barnett) wears very many hats. From Senior Class Advisor, to getting officials, to ticket-taking, to contacting media about college signings, to overseeing some of the athletic events, he is plugged in at so many different places,” said Havens. “Just all the things we need taken care of, he’s always able to do it. If he says he’s going to take care of something, he’s going to take care of it.”

Barnett explained he has worked for five superintendents and nine building principals, and that “50 years, it really has flown by.”

As for how he stayed AND remained at South Webster, with an opportunity at taking teaching positions elsewhere, he recalled a conversation he had with then-Bloom-Vernon Local Schools Superintendent Raymond Mullen.

Barnett was concluding his college coursework, was the equivalent of a teacher’s aide at the time, and took two fill-in positions during the same semester when approached —ranging from instructing kindergartners to juniors and seniors in that very same semester.

Despite that polar opposite spectrum, “I really wanted a job here (at South Webster).”

And, as Barnett recollected in detail his conversation with Mullen, he got it —and has returned every academic year in some capacity since.

“Mr. Mullen came to me at the end of that school year and said he thought he had something for me at the end of that year and start of the next year…under one condition. He said you have to promise me you will to go other schools (districts) and you will go through their interviewing process. Then you will come back here and you will find that I (Mullen) am right when I say that this is the best school you can possibly teach in or under or at. He said that with a very strong voice of confidence, but not arrogance. Looking back, many years after that conversation, boy was he so right,” said Barnett. “It (Bloom-Vernon Local School District) is a great place to be employed. I announce every game ‘On behalf of the administration, faculty, staff, student body and our athletic boosters, welcome to South Webster High School.’ Every time I say that, I think back to that this is in fact a great place. Everyone connected to this school system, it’s like one great big family. We all rally around each other when we need to. It couldn’t be a better place or better environment to work in. We have tremendous community support here with the passing of levies, attendance at our events. That is why I keep coming back.”

For 48, 49 and 50, Barnett said his three reasons for returning those three years were the trio of Kreischer, Havens and SWHS Principal Brett Roberts.

“I don’t feel that I work for them as much as I feel I work with them,” he said. “It’s just a great system in which to be employed.”

Kreischer, who publicly presented Barnett with his plaque in recognition for his 50 years of service, began teaching and coaching in the district during the 2004-05 academic year —which was Barnett’s final as a full-time teacher.

Havens and Kreischer kept that positive public announcement a secret — “a shock” to the go-about-his-business-like Barnett.

“You will never know how much of a shock that came to me,” said Barnett. “I was shocked, totally surprised.”

This time, it was Kreischer presenting Barnett —as the two had reversed roles only 17 years earlier.

That’s because Kreischer coached the Jeeps’ boys basketball team to the coveted Division IV state championship in March of 2006.

“I had the privilege of coming back from Columbus in a large caravan of cars and vehicles after we won the state championship,” said Barnett. “It was my great honor to walk into the gymnasium here and announce “Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you the 2006 Division IV boys basketball state champions — our South Webster Jeeps and head coach Marc Kreischer.”

Barnett said he “would love to have the opportunity to do that again” —as that actually is a good possibility, for the legendary Norm Persin is now the head coach of a talented and what will be a highly-touted Jeeps’ club.

Persin also has a Division IV boys basketball state championship to his credit —as the bench boss of the Jeeps’ rival Oak Hill Oaks in 2009.

While the 2006 state title might have been Barnett’s biggest athletic-related highlight at the school, the graduation of 65 to 75 South Webster seniors every year is his highest honor.

“As Senior Class Advisor for nearly 30 years, that’s a tremendous honor each year seeing seniors receive his or her diploma from South Webster High School,” he said.

Meanwhile, Barnett’s daughter, Kristin Ruby, is the athletic director at Minford.

“I am so proud of her. She followed in both mom and dad’s footsteps and she ended up becoming the administrator that I did not ever want to become. I wanted to sit back and be a role player,” said Barnett.

As for how long Barnett still desires to play a role at South Webster?

“As long as I honestly feel that I am contributing and not in somebody’s way and if they want me, I may stay on anywhere from another month to 10 years,” he said. “I really don’t know.”

What he does know?

He still likes wearing many hats —but only as a Jeep.

“I can’t impress enough upon how well we as a district work as a unit. Just so pleased to be a part of it. I like being involved, just helping in some small way,” said Barnett. “If they feel I can be of asset, all they have to do is just ask.”

Expect South Webster to do just that.

“When you have someone that cares as much about the school district, the community, the kids as much as Rodney does, you really need people like that in your school system. He is definitely an asset to this school system because he is always willing to do what’s needed,” said Kreischer. “Often times, it’s so hard to find employees like that.”

Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2023 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved

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