Coaches at every level use many colorful four-letter words during games and at practices. Over the last 30 years, Frank Barron was one coach who routinely used a four-letter word that certainly defined him as a coach and as a person — love.
On several occasions he would give nearly the same response when asked what the reason was for his success in sports, and in particular his longevity and impact on the sport of lacrosse in Connecticut.
“I love sports, I love coaching football and lacrosse, I love teaching and I love my family,” Barron would say. “But I just love people. I love being around people, doing what I can to help them, and when I can, make an impact on people on the field and off the field. I love having that connection.”
On Saturday, Barron, who coached for nearly 40 years and was an icon on the Connecticut lacrosse scene, died at Connecticut Hospice in Branford at age 69 following a lengthy battle with pancreatic and liver cancer.
In 1980, Barron was a junior varisty coach for the boys lacrosse team at Hand and served as a freshman and assistant coach for the Hand football team. Barron was head coach of the boys lacrosse team from 1991-1999 and ended up with an 86-83 record. While he continued to be an assistant football coach at Hand, in 2000 he moved on to become an assistant coach for the Branford boys lacrosse team. Barron won his only state title in 2003 as an assistant coach when the Hornets won the Division II state title (Brian Adkins was head coach at the time).
“This is an enormous loss,” Branford boys lacrosse coach Jim May said. “He is the godfather of Connecticut lacrosse and made a great impact on the sport. I knew him for 26 years and he made a huge impact on my life. Everything I know when it comes to coaching lacrosse I learned from Frank.
“Three things come to mind when I think of Frank. His communication skills were second to none, he was always loyalty to people and his amazing voice would soothe people. He never said one bad thing about anybody. He grew up and played football at East Haven High and coached freshman football at Hand for 20-plus years. But he made an impact on every level when it came to lacrosse.”
For years Barron was the state liason with U.S. Lacrosse when it came to selecting Connecticut high school boys lacrosse All-Americans. He was also the long time master of ceremonies for the Connecticut High School Lacrosse Coaches Association All-State banquet.
Long time friend Bob Russell of Madison was overwhelmed by the news of Barron’s passing.
“I saw him at the end of last week and he was lucid and communicating,” said Russell, another state icon in the youth, high school and college lacrosse community. He has been an assistant boys lacrosse coach at Hand and currently is the Special Counsel for the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association. “He was a great friend and we coached against each other for years. This is so sad. But he was ill for a very long time.
“One of the great moments for me was last lacrosse season (2019) when Hand hosted Branford and Frank was able to come to the game and spend some time with all of us. When it came to lacrosse, Frank was wired in not only on the local and state level but national level as well. His knowledge of the game was amazing and I would call him to talk offensive plays.”
Long time friend George Baldassare of Madison, a former Hand boys lacrosse assistant and former director of high school lacrosse for the now-defunct Laxpower.com, called Barron an extremely positive person.
“During games, no matter how bad the score was, Frank never gave up,” Baldassare said. “ He knew the score with the cancer in his body but he never gave up. He always told his players to try hard and that’s what he did. He never lost his cool and he always helped people whether it was on the field or in the classroom. He taught journalism and English and was exceptional as a teacher as he was as a coach.
“Three words stick out at me when it comes to Frank — educator, coach, mentor. Frank did not need talent on his teams to win. He had a system and he was a teacher. If an athlete struggled, he sat that person down, discussed what needed to be improved and he taught them to compete. He had the exceptional ability to connect with everyone. He was empathetic and never turned down anyone for help or a favor. His kids remember that and it’s why thousands are posting responses on his Facebook page.”
Barron leaves his 31-year-old son Greg Barron and wife Becky Barron. Due to COVID-19, a memorial service will be arranged at some point down the road.
“My dad was big when it came to coaching football and lacrosse,” Greg Barron said. “He was known by everyone as a mentor and a coach. But I knew him as my dad. I only think about him as my father, a man unlike any other. The qualities I learned from him will stay with me my whole life. He was very influential in my life.
“He always tried to teach me the right way to act and he taught me values. For my dad, it wasn’t about the sports. It was all about the relationships that were built up with other people throughout his life.”
Barron has been inducted into four state hall of fames — Connecticut Lacrosse Hall of Fame, the Hand Athletic Hall of Fame, Branford Athletic Hall of Fame and most recently the East Haven Athletic Hall of Fame.