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The Captain steps aside: Sportswriter Barber retires after 33 years

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD
Biloxi Harrison Central Biloxi Friday during the quarter of their game at Biloxi High Stadium.
Sun Herald sports writer Doug Barber
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Biloxi Harrison Central Biloxi Friday during the quarter of their game at Biloxi High Stadium. Sun Herald sports writer Doug Barber SUN HERALD

Doug Barber's three-plus decades at the Sun Herald have been spent documenting the sports accomplishments of South Mississippi.

He was in the press box in 1984 when Jerry Rice and Mississippi Valley State lost 42-28 to Alcorn State in Jackson before an overflow crowd of 63,808. Barber was also there at Southern Miss to watch an unheralded freshman quarterback, Brett Favre, take the field for the first time in 1987 and lead his team to a come-from-behind win over Tulane.

From golf tournaments to hockey games, Barber has covered a wide variety of events during his time at the Sun Herald.

This week, he is retiring after 33 years as a member of the sports staff at the Sun Herald.

While Barber has been there for many great games on every level of competition in the state, he's most respected and well-known for his work covering high school sports on the Coast.

A Biloxi native, Barber has earned the praise of coaches and athletes alike because of his work.

Three current high school boys basketball coaches, Gulfport's Owen Miller, Seber Windham of Biloxi and Harrison Central's Francisco Hardy all had the privilege of being covered by Barber as both high school players and high school coaches.

For Windham, it's surreal to watch Barber step down after watching him sit courtside for so many seasons.

"I can remember my second state championship when I was the point guard at Biloxi," Windham said. "I remember coming out of the locker room and Doug standing there and he's interviewing most of the starting five. He said, 'Seber Windham, can I interview you quickly?' I started explaining the journey to him. Twenty years later, I walk in the locker room in 2009 and Doug is standing there and I'm the coach of the Biloxi Indians and he asks me the same thing, 'Seber, what about the journey? How did y'all go from here to now as state champions. How does it feel?' I thought it was a really, really neat deal to see Doug when I was 17-18 years old then and then walking out of the locker room at 37 or 38 years old."

While Windham points to his moments of triumph as his best memories with Barber, Miller recalls the time when Barber was there at one of his most difficult times as a teenager.

"Biloxi beat us in the final four in Jackson (in 1989) and he interviewed me after game," Miller said. "The way he handled a distraught kid after we lost our last game in the state semifinal, I still remember how he handled that situation and things he asked. He was very compassionate with how he handled that situation and he did it with class."

Barber, 63, was voted into the Biloxi Sports Hall of Fame last year and Gulfport High School honored him with a plaque prior to a boys basketball game last week for his work over the last 33 years.

He was embraced by both the Biloxi and Gulfport communities and the Coast as a whole.

In the Sun Herald newsroom, Barber has long been referred to as "The Captain."

"Doug Barber's presence in the Sun Herald's newsroom and along the sidelines, courtside, or in the press boxes of South Mississippi has become a given," Sun Herald executive editor Stan Tiner said. "For more than three decades, he has been the authority on sports in our part of the world, and he now reigns as the unquestioned dean of sportswriters in South Mississippi.

"His coverage was described as fair and impartial, and that is so well said. Doug's zest for his sports writing and editing duties has never wavered, and when Katrina struck the Coast, he rolled up his sleeves and joined our news team -- reporting from across the storm zone. Now he has decided to take some "Doug time" and we wish him all the good fortune and good times that he deserves. He is a special man, and a special talent, and he will be greatly missed."

Barber has interviewed numerous well-respected high school coaches who have claimed championships on the Coast. Whether it was Bert Jenkins at Gulfport or Jackie Laird at Biloxi, the names go on and on.

Current D'Iberville football coach Buddy Singleton has been coaching for four decades and has served 49 years total working with kids at the high school level.

"I really hate to see him step down," Singleton said of Barber. "He's a great guy. I was hoping I'd step down before he did. He's been a good guy and he'll really be missed. He's one of those guys you could always depend on when you wanted to get something across in the paper."

The many coaches and former athletes that he covered during his time at the Sun Herald echo each other in saying how much they appreciate Barber's approach to covering their teams.

For Barber, it was a matter of simply listening to what they had to say.

"I just pretty much tried to get their viewpoint on what happened from their perspective," he said. "I let them tell their story."

Long-time Gulfport athletic director and football coach Lindy Callahan, now retired, was among those who appreciated how Barber approached his subjects.

"Working with him, he had a unique way about him," Callahan said. "He always listened when you had something to present him. We're really going to miss him."

Singleton, 74, always saw a reliable newspaper man to talk to when Barber would show up at the school looking for an interview.

"I think he understands athletics and understands coaches," Singleton said. "I've had some guys in the past put things in the paper that would upset you a lot. Doug will tell it like it was. I never minded talking to him or being interviewed by him at all. He's going to be missed. He's one of a kind."

While sports has largely been his focus during his time at the Sun Herald, Barber was asked to step up as a news reporter after Hurricane Katrina hit the Coast on August 29, 2005.

He was at the house of current Sun Herald sports editor, Scott Hawkins, at the time Katrina moved ashore. A couple of days later, Barber realized his house in Gulfport had been washed out by the storm.

"When we finally got (to the location of Barber's house), there was water all over the place, power lines were down," Barber said. "It was an experience. I like to think of myself as a sports writer, but we were really news reporters in those days afterwards. We were out delivering newspapers. It was a pretty wild time and then a couple of years later, I was able to move back in the house.

"You have your whole life turned upside down. You've just got to keep working through it. I wasn't the only one. We had people working whose relatives died. I can't even figure how it hit them. I knew it hurt bad, yet they kept going anyway."

Barber worked as the sports editor and sports lead role for much of his time at the Sun Herald, guiding the way for numerous sports writers who have come and gone.

For fellow Sun Herald sports staff member James Jones, it's difficult to watch a good friend and trusted co-worker move on to retirement.

"Doug Barber was a great role model for me," Jones said. "He set a high standard of excellence for not only high school sports, but local events as well. His coverage on sailing and local tennis was always on a high level. He was a great asset in the Sun Herald newsroom, and in South Mississippi as well."

While Barber may be seen in the stands at games in the future, it will take some time to adjust to retirement after leaving his workplace of 33 years.

"You're kind of thinking about the future," Barber said as prepares to retire. "You never know what's out there. It's kind of sinking in a little bit. When I leave the building, you'll miss the camaraderie of people you work with. That's the deal. Everybody here, they're family. Some of them you know better than others. Some people have been around here a long time. Some, not so long. You get to know them pretty good. It'll be like losing a part of your family when it's over with."

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