It was early Sunday when two buses carrying the newly crowned Class 1A champion girls’ and boys’ basketball teams lumbered south down U.S. 89 from Richfield to Panguitch.
The town’s fire trucks, police cars and ambulances, sirens blaring, greeted the teams 10 miles north of the city of 1,665 residents about 12:30 a.m.
Tourists spending the night at Panguitch motels must have felt as though they were under attack. The entourage went down the main part of town, then hit the side streets.
It was late because about 80 members of the basketball family — and it is a family in every sense of the word — elected to celebrate the titles at a small Richfield Mexican restaurant that was slightly overwhelmed.
How much of a family is this?
Consider that brothers Clint and Curtis Barney just had coached the boys’ and girls’ teams, respectively, to state titles, allowing Panguitch to hang its 86th and 87th banners in its cozy gym.
Curtis coached Clint’s daughter Mataya. Clint coached Curtis’ sons and two of his own boys.
Assistant girls’ coach Tammi Bennett, who was a freshman when Panguitch won its first girls’ title in 1987, coached her daughter Jordan, the team’s lone senior who hit what proved to be the winning shot.
Jace Eyre, a senior, said he couldn’t let his little sister Karlee, a junior, show him up.
“It was crazy for our parents,” Karlee said. “There was so much stress, we didn’t know what to think. The whole town was way stressed out. I was worried about Mom that maybe she would have a heart attack.”
Like many in this sports-crazed town, the Eyre siblings started playing at a young age.
“We had mini hoops in the house and played full-court inside,” Karlee said. “Then we got older and we put a hoop in the driveway. We’d back the cars out and play there.”
Curtis and Clint Barney can relate.
They grew up playing sports for Panguitch with their middle brother Kris.
The brothers still are so competitive that they have to catch the family’s biggest fish or bag the largest deer. They even have been known to race each other on the freeway.
As kids, they would clear out two rooms in their small one-bathroom home and play football.
“If something was broken, we’d try to glue it together so Mom and Dad wouldn’t find out,” recalled Curtis. “We loved the competition.”
They also grew up in a family where money was tight.
“Mom and Dad would load up the camper when the [basketball] tournament was in Provo,” Curtis said. “That’s where we would stay. We didn’t have a lot of money. That was our vacation. We were going to ballgames and getting to go to Dee’s and have a hamburger. We thought life was good.”
Panguitch principal Russell Torgersen, who doesn’t like to advertise the fact that he graduated from Bobcat archrival Piute just up Highway 89, says there are many factors that lead to the school’s athletic success.
“They start out really young on the playground and then play a lot throughout the year,” he said. “You combine that with the families who have high expectations and a work ethic associated with rural communities. Then you have the expectations of coaches with lots of years of experience.”
Curtis Barney estimated that 60 percent of the town’s residents attended the two championship games last Saturday in Richfield.
“The ones who couldn’t go watched it on the local television station,” Panguitch Mayor Kim Soper said. “The whole town one way or the other is with those kids.”
Soper said the success isn’t just about sports. He calls the current crop of Bobcat students just outstanding in most aspects of high school and community life. The coaches foster that.
Curtis Barney sees the rough side. He teaches adult education at the Garfield County Jail.
His girls must maintain at least a C average or they don’t play. There is a 9 p.m. curfew to be in bed the night before a game.
Clint is eight years younger than Curtis. That gives him some hope of matching his brother’s record-tying 11 state titles and 461 career wins.
He said the boys’ and girls’ games are played differently, but the two do incorporate some aspects of their styles.
“I’m amazed at the shot selection of the girls he coaches,” Clint said. “They are so disciplined. Curtis is more mellow than I am. He has the temperament of maybe more of a father and a leader who doesn’t stomp and holler as much as his young brother. That’s an asset to him. My emotions sometimes get in the way of being the best I can be.”
That style seems to be working quite well, though. And though Curtis considers retirement once in a while, both Barneys seem ready to come back again next year.
In a town known for celebrations, that might be the best thing of all to celebrate.