Doug Bark loves football. He always has, and he always will.
He also loves making a difference in the lives of young men.
Over the years Doug has found a way to incorporate those two loves as an assistant football coach.
At the age of 72, Coach Bark, or “Gramps,” as some players call him, is entering his 50th year of coaching, a remarkable accomplishment that began back in 1960 at the age of 21.
To be fair about it, Coach Barks’ love of football, and his interest in coaching, began long before his days at Brooklyn High School, where he coached from 1960 to 1962.
You see, Doug knows first-hand how influential a coach or a teacher can be to a young person, and by becoming a coach and teacher himself, he takes that responsibility very seriously.
It was at Lancaster High School during the 1950’s that Doug was influenced by his football and basketball coaches, and it’s because of them that he took an interest in coaching at all.
In football, he was coached by Mert Wulf, where he played linebacker and took care of the punting duties.
On the basketball court, he was under the instruction of John Paulin, who brought Doug up to start on the varsity during his sophomore year. He also played for Paulin as a member of the Lancaster baseball team.
Wulf and Paulin left an indelible impression on Doug, not only during his high school years, but for many years to follow.
“Coach Paulin was there for me all the time,” remembers Doug. “To be honest, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if those people hadn’t taken me under their arm and got me in college and things like that.”
“They looked after me, and I guess it’s my job now, and my turn now to do the same,” Doug added.
Upon graduating from Lancaster High School in 1957, Doug went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he studied education, but did not play football.
Following college, Doug found a job teaching in Brooklyn, Wis. located just south of Madison. That’s also where his football coaching career started for an eight-man team that also consolidated with Oregon High School.
During times when the team didn’t have enough players to practice, Coach Bark would suit up and get involved in the action.
He coached at Brooklyn for three years, then took his talents to Iowa-Grant High School in 1964, and remained there for the next 30 years.
The whole time at Iowa-Grant, Doug was an assistant coach, with no real interest in becoming a head coach despite a number of offers during the years.
At Iowa-Grant, Doug was part of seven conference titles, two state runner-up titles and one state championship.
He also served as an assistant basketball, wrestling and track coach at Iowa-Grant, as well as holding down the duties of athletic director from 1975 to 1988.
His most memorable moment during his coaching career occurred as an assistant at Iowa-Grant, where he got to coach his son, Duane. He also had the opportunity to coach his daughter during a powder puff football contest held at the high school.
A few years later, he also had the opportunity to coach with his son, who was also hired as an assistant at Iowa-Grant and obviously was bitten by the coaching bug just like his father before him.
In 1993, a retired Coach Bark watched from the stands at Camp Randall Stadium, as the Lancaster Flying Arrows won the school’s first state football title.
Doug’s retirement lasted just one year though, as it wasn’t long before he received a call from Lancaster’s head coach John Hoch.
According to Doug, it didn’t take much for Coach Hoch to convince him to join the coaching staff at Lancaster, and become an assistant coach for the Flying Arrows.
“I just wanted to be back in football,” said Doug. “After I retired I went back to a game at Iowa-Grant, and at halftime I told my wife I had to go, I couldn’t do this.”
Doug accepted Coach Hoch’s invitation, and has been the linebackers coach at Lancaster for the past 17 years now.
With the success that Lancaster has had on the football field in recent years, Coach Bark has now been part of six state championship teams, one from Iowa-Grant and five from Lancaster.
As a member of the Flying Arrow coaching staff, Doug had the opportunity to coach against his son, who spent time at Prairie du Chien and Riverdale.
While at Lancaster, Doug also had the thrill of coaching his grandsons, J.J. and Lucas White, and against another grandson, Brad Bark, who played for Prairie du Chien. In 2005 he had the opportunity to coach with J.J., who was helping out the long snappers for the Flying Arrows.
In 2008 Doug spent the year as an assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin-Platteville football team, where he coached running backs and long snappers.
Long snapping has actually been somewhat of a family tradition for the Bark family, as Duane was a long snapper at Iowa-Grant, Doug’s two grandsons at Lancaster (J.J. & Lucas) were both long snappers, and then Doug and J.J. both coached long snappers.
Even at the age of 70, Doug was often times putting in 14-hour days at UW-Platteville, and was working seven days a week with the team.
Even though he coached just one year for the Pioneers, Doug has been invited back every year since to address the players and drop some knowledge on the youngsters.
His advice to young people all the time is simple and true. He tells them that the number one key to being successful in life is to associate with people that are great, outstanding people.
By following his own advice, Doug knows it has led him to living a successful life, and left him with no regrets.
“I was fortunate to always work for great coaching staffs,” said Doug.
He also knows how fortunate he is to have had his No. 1 supporter by his side throughout the past 50 years, and made it a point to thank his wife Jill for always encouraging him to do what he loves.
“My wife is a great supporter,” said Doug. “For a lot of young guys that first start out, it’s a pretty tough thing for the misses to understand the hours that you’re gone. She’s always been encouraging, and she tells me to keep going. We’re going to have to start holding practices at the nursing home here pretty soon.”
According to Jill though, even in recent years it hasn’t taken much to convince Doug each year to get back on the sideline.
“Every year about the end of the season he’ll say, ‘Oh I think my gas has run out,’ then about six weeks later he’s starting to draw X’s and O’s,” Jill said.
For years Jill has kept a copy of an article that is titled “First, never marry a coach…But if you do.”
The article is intended for wives of coaches, informing them of the meals, birthdays and other family obligations their husbands will undoubtedly miss throughout the years. But the end of the article points out that if they make a difference in just one boys’ life as a coach, it will all be worth it.
Jill has passed a copy of that article on to many young coaches’ wives, and like Doug, knows the importance of making a difference in a young person’s life.
That is the number one reason Doug decided to coach in the first place, and why he has continued to do so for 50 years.
“I look at it as basically making a difference in somebody’s life,” explained Doug. “I get kids from Iowa-Grant that still stop by and see us. I don’t recognize a lot of them, and they have to tell me their name, but that’s a real reward as far as I’m concerned.”
I asked Doug for his opinion of what makes a good coach, and from personal experience, gave me his answer.
“I think you’ve got to have a knowledge of the game of course, and then I think being able to relate to, and be honest with the kids.”
“During my college years, I was always told that if I’m going to chew your butt for something, then I have to have five positive things to say to you too.”
There’s little doubt that Coach Bark truly does exemplify the meaning of a good coach.
In 2002 he was inducted into the Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) Hall of Fame, making him the third football coach from Lancaster to receive such an honor, along with John Hoch and Bill Massey.
“I guess that was one of the most special moments in my coaching career, to get into that elite group,” said Doug. “I was pretty excited. It took me by surprise, and that was a great evening.”
He also was named as an assistant coach for the WFCA All-Star game in 1992, and received the WFCA Assistant Coach of the Year award.
To determine how much longer he continues to coach, Doug has come up with three criteria to help him with that answer each year.
“One, I really enjoy it. If I don’t enjoy it anymore I’m not there,” said Doug.
“Two, As long as I can stay healthy.”
“Three, when I’m not making a contribution, I want the head coach to tell me that, and with no hard feelings, I’m gone.”
For the sake of all the young men who will be joining the high school football ranks in recent years at Lancaster High School, let’s hope Coach Bark isn’t watching football games from the bleachers anytime soon.