Omps, Dick, Barr: ‘Winners in life’

By David Selig
The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — Inside the folder he brought to Thursday’s Winchester Rotary Club meeting, Virginia High School League Executive Director Ken Tilley had a brochure emblazoned with the slogan “Winning in life.”

It wasn’t completely a coincidence that Walter Barr, one of three local athletic icons Tilley honored at the event at the Travelodge, has become associated with the same phrase.

“That dovetails exactly what we’re all about,” Tilley said following his presentation. “For somebody to separately say that’s what [Barr] was all about, that’s the best example of why we value all that he’s done and wanted to recognize him today.”

Barr — the legendary former football coach at James Wood High School, Sherando High School and Shenandoah University — was honored along with former Handley coach and athletic director Jimmy Omps and former James Wood athlete, teacher and principal Wendell Dick.  Tilley said he was invited to the weekly Rotary meeting by former state Sen. Russ Potts, who proposed honoring the trio.

“Russ says, ‘Rotary would like you to speak, and by the way, here are three individuals that are giants in high school athletics. Can we acknowledge their contributions?’” Tilley said. “I said, ‘Absolutely. They deserve it.’

“They were successful, but more important than wins and championships and honors of that type, they were teaching kids to be winners in life and be better citizens. And that’s what we’re all about.”

Each of the honorees was called to the podium and presented with a commemorative plaque after Tilley described his organization’s goals to promote student activities throughout the state.

Dick — a four-sport letterman at James Wood. who has the school’s athletic hall of fame named after him — said much of Thursday’s honor came from the people recognized with him.

“Hey, I’m with two of the best that have ever been in this area,” said Dick, who is also on the board of the VHSL’s fundraising foundation. “Jimmy Omps, if there’s a better athletic director, I want to know where. Doing cross country and track and field for 50 years, J.O. was probably the best organizer of any place that I ever went.”

Omps was a 1953 Handley graduate and ran the Judges’ athletics from 1967 to 1995. Handley’s gym will be dedicated to Omps and the late Hunter Maddex Saturday, preceding Handley’s 7 p.m. home boys’ basketball game against Clarke County.

“High school athletics has been my whole life, just about,” Omps said Thursday. “I know what the VHSL is all about. I have three children who went through the program, and I know the values the activities and athletic programs are all about. I’m just so honored to be honored here today.”

A Clarke County High School graduate, Barr went 38-2-1 and won the 1970 Group AAA state title while coaching James Wood’s football team from 1967 to 70. He had successful stops at Shepherd University, Loudoun County High School, Sherando and Shenandoah before returning to Wood in 2005.

He guided the 2006 Colonels to a 7-3 record, the school’s first winning season since 1981, then took Wood to the playoffs the following year for the first time since 1980.

“It means a lot to me, and it’s not just because of me,” Barr said of Thursday’s VHSL honor. “All of our coaches deserve part of this. I’ve had good coaching staffs and good athletes, and this says a lot about them.”

“I’m really proud of all the people I’ve worked with,” Barr continued, looking toward Omps. “Even the Handley people.”

Before calling the honorees to the stage, Tilley outlined the scope of the VHSL’s programs and spoke about the need for increased fundraising.

“By being a member of the foundation board, I understand that you do need money, because more schools and more kids are participating,” Dick said. “The only revenue source is basically football and basketball, and you have all the other sports that are not revenue. ... So, we do need more money for the VHSL. It’s a great organization.”

Of course, as Tilley acknowledged, the VHSL often gets associated most strongly with its legislation. And Sherando’s appeal to remain in Group AA — after the
VHSL proposed the school’s move to the state’s highest classification in 2011 — will continue to be a hot topic until the executive committee makes its final redistricting and reclassification decisions in May.

“Those are things that’s part of our job, too,” Tilley said. “We make decisions that we may not like, necessarily. And we understand that those decisions are going to have some unfortunate consequences for certain schools and certain students.

“But we serve the 311 schools, and we have to do the best for the group as a whole. ... We’ve got to try to be fair and impartial in our decisions. We’ve got to consider each case on an individual basis, but we’ve got to do what the membership as a whole — and what the organization as a whole — believes in.”

Sherando’s first appeal to remain in Group AA was denied by the VHSL’s redistricting and reclassification committee Tuesday. After considering enrollment changes at a Feb. 4 public meeting, the school plans to file another appeal by the March 17 deadline before the committee meets on the topic again.

— Contact David Selig at
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