Family and friends help celebrate Dave Barksdale's 80th birthday

Apr. 1—Of all the lullabies out there for a parent to sing while trying to soothe a tired or fussy baby, there was only one choice for Dave Barksdale.

"Mom said she went in a couple of times when he was rocking me to sleep and he was always singing 'The Star-Spangled Banner,'" Barksdale's daughter Brantley recalled. "She just finally said, 'Why is that the only song you are singing to Brantley?' and he said, 'That's the only song I know.'"

That may be hard to fathom, but in Barksdale's case it seems totally legitimate, given the number of times he heard it in the decades he spent as a multi-sport athlete and iconic basketball coach.

He is, of course, synonymous with the game, not only in Beckley but statewide. In all those years guiding Woodrow Wilson to multiple state championships and sticking with the game through other avenues, Barksdale has made many friends and acquaintances.

That was evident Saturday at New River Park, where a large group of friends and family showed up to surprise Barksdale with a party to celebrate his 80th birthday.

The bash was a collaborative effort of friends, family and community members. Among them were his three children — daughters Brantley and Stacey and son Ty.

"Some of them came in Thursday, some of them came in Friday. They never let on," said a smiling Barksdale, who never caught on to the surprise. "I had to take something down to the Exhibition Mine and I was driving down that road before I came here. I was with my son and I said, 'Something's going on right there.' Anyway, I went down there (motioning to the entrance to the park). Never thought about something like this. Never."

It was up to Ty to keep his dad at bay long enough for the others to get things set up.

"Ty had a really hard time because Dad always wants to get to the pickleball courts early," Brantley said. "Ty was just dragging his feet and Dad was getting so mad at him. It was hard, but it was good. All of us kind of slipped up a couple of times but we covered it up pretty fast."

Barksdale, whose birthday was Monday, arrived at the shelter to a big round of applause with a smile of appreciation and surprise. He politely declined requests to make a speech, then made sure to shake hands with everyone there.

Among those in attendance were Butch Freeman and current Woodrow Wilson head coach Ron Kidd, both of whom served as assistants to Barksdale during his nearly 20-year run as the Flying Eagles' head coach; Bill O'Brien and Maris Lowery, who broadcasted Barksdale's games on the radio; and Beckley Mayor Rob Rappold. Several people took a moment to share Dave Barksdale stories, including Woodrow Wilson superfan Bobby Sanger.

The location for the party was appropriate. Adjacent to the shelter are the park's basketball courts — Barksdale led the Flying Eagles to five Class AAA state championships (1990, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998). He later went on to assist Mountain State University head coach Bob Bolen, and the Cougars won the 2004 NAIA National Championship.

Beyond the basketball courts are the pickleball courts, which is fitting since Barksdale has been instrumental in the sport's popularity explosion in Beckley. Several of the party's guests play the game regularly; in fact, many of them played Saturday after the party.

Among those helping to coordinate the event was pickleball enthusiast Lizzie Watts.

Brantley said the support the community gives to her dad is important to her family. Ty lives in Ohio and Brantley and Stacey both live on Hilton Head Island, S.C., the native state of Barksdale's wife Gelilah, who passed away in 2021.

"The last four years have been really hard on Dad after my mom passed," Brantley said. "We just know this community and how they have wrapped their arms around my dad. They have always been supportive of him with basketball, but just the fact that the pickleball family and everybody being so supportive of him means so much to us being so far away. It's great to be able to celebrate him, and I'm happy that he's a healthy 80-year-old."

"That's why I couldn't say anything; I'd break down," Barksdale said. "I break down a lot more since my wife died. To see people that would come out for my birthday, that's really special to me. That's really something. I never would have thought of something like this, ever."

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