Carson-Newman College Athletics Director David Barger announced today that he will retire from fulltime service on April 30. The longest serving AD in the South Atlantic Conference (SAC), Barger will "for the foreseeable future" raise funds and friends for his alma mater on a part-time basis.
"Everything's good but the legs," said Barger, a 1970 C-N alumnus who was diagnosed with limb-girdle muscular dystrophy as an eight-year-old. Though not in pain or on medication - "whatsoever, other than maybe ibuprofen for soreness or normal stuff" - Barger is sure the time is right.
"I just can't do it full speed like I want to, like I have been able to, and I've always thought that should be the point when I try to find another way to help Carson-Newman," he stated.
When the subject comes to what he calls the D-word - "because we don't say disabled" - Barger's voice takes on a certain resolve. "I have always been competitive; always had an athletic mindset. I'm a pretty stubborn guy with a determined point of view."
C-N President Randall O'Brien shared Barger's decision with members of the Board of Trustees' executive committee during their regular spring meeting this morning. Committee members then acted on a motion that deemed Barger will receive emeritus status on May 1, putting him in a two-member club with Frosty Holt, who is credited with developing C-N's strong athletic tradition from 1929 until 1968.
"David's career at Carson-Newman has epitomized our motto of Truth, Beauty and Goodness," praised Dr. O'Brien. "His work here is a testament to his devotion to God and he demonstrates it daily through his commitment to our student-athletes, our mission, our coaches and staff, and to making the program vital and viable."
O'Brien championed Barger's more than five decades of C-N history as vital to future growth.
"David knows approximately 90 percent of our living athletic alumni, and knows who they played with, how they fared and what matters to them. I am excited that he wants to continue that commitment by raising support for our athletics program," the president said.
An accounting graduate and banking industry veteran, Barger joined C-N's athletic department in 1980, becoming the director of athletic promotions. After serving in that role for nine years, he was named the director of athletic development. He took over the operation's helm in 1990 when he replaced football coach Ken Sparks as AD.
During the year he spent between promotions and overseeing the entire program, Barger broke the century ceiling in 1990, raising more than $100K in a year.
"I have enjoyed administration and day to day operations, but I am looking forward to concentrating on helping coaches raise support for things they need," he said. "I see myself as setting the table by helping our coaches secure resources and keeping alumni and friends involved in our great athletic tradition."
As athletics director, Barger has used what he learned in promotions, fundraising and administration, plus lessons from the private sector as well. Within a year of becoming AD, Barger was involved in helping overhaul Holt Fieldhouse, including developing new office space and incorporating the 1960s structure to be part of the Maddox Student Activities Center.
Among other things of which he is most proud is navigating the locks and dams involved in transitioning between NAIA status and membership at the NCAA's Division II level through 1993 and 1994. "You know, there are a couple of years in there when you are becoming compliant with the NCAA's regulations while also being in good standing with the NAIA, so you're keeping two sets of rules simultaneously."
Barger is credited with building one of Division II's premier athletic programs with noted success in most of the 14 sports it fields, fostering a 20 percent increase in student-athletes and leading changes in gender equity.
"David's tenure includes balancing women's athletics with the men's program, which had a head start of some 95 years," said O'Brien. "That's been one of the great developments nationally and at Carson-Newman, thanks to David, because it's provided so many women the chance to compete and use their abilities as the springboard to a great education."
Barger's strong commitment to C-N predates his employment. Following graduation, he served as both vice president and president of the National Alumni Association and president of the Eagle Club. He also served as a member of the Alumni Executive Committee, member of the Board of Advisors and president of the Chattanooga alumni chapter. In 1978, the C-N letterman was presented the Eagle Club's Booster of the Year Award.
He is a Hall of Fame member at Chattanooga Red Bank High School and on February 27 will receive the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame's Morgan-Morris Award, given to those who have overcome adversity and inspired others through sports.
Barger resides in Talbott with his wife, Malinda. They are faithful members of Manley Baptist Church where David serves as a deacon. They have three adult children and three grandchildren.