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Column: Ray Bartha Court an honor fit for only a select few


High top Sports Network

It seems as though everyone has a different memory when the name Ray Bartha is brought up in conversation. Many speak of the hall-of-fame coach, others share stories about his role and corresponding impact as an educator. Some describe their dealings with him as an athletic director at Apollo-Ridge High School — but all recount his genuine nature and thoughtfulness when it comes to others. All of my stories and memories are very much the same.

It was a true disappointment that I was unable to be at Apollo-Ridge High School on Monday evening when the district dedicated the gymnasium floor to Ray. For there are few to none in the athletics community in and around Armstrong County that I respect quite like Raymond Bartha. When a gymnasium or court is named in one’s honor, it is in my humble opinion the most notable honor in high school athletics. Now, when I’m either broadcasting or covering a game in the gym that hosts Vikings games, and see his name on the court in his own script, I can be reminded of his impact on me, even if he’s not there on a given night to remind me firsthand.

When I took on my first role with the Leader Times during the 2015-16 school year, Ray was one of the first people to welcome me to what then was an unfamiliar area. That 26 year-old Joe Rhoades was very nervous, and eager to gain the acceptance of people like Ray, in roles I would be dealing with often as a sports journalist. He not only accepted me whole-heartedly, he took it a step further and always made it a point to sincerely as

k about my personal life, my young son, but most importantly, my well being. Those moments are some I will never forget and always cherish. They go a long way on certain days when you find that you need them the most.

It is also a consequential reason why I do my absolute best to be considerate to every individual that I cross paths with, as we do not know the circumstances that may weigh on one’s heart on a given day.

Apollo-Ridge athletic director Ray Bartha (left) sits down with Leader Times sports editor Joe Rhoades (right) for a video interview on January 11, 2019 detailing "Local Legends" throughout the Armstrong County sports landscape.

For over a half-century, Ray has dedicated himself and his efforts to the betterment of others, be it on the playing field, in the school environment, or simply to those in their personal lives as I can attest. One of the better ways to chronicle his selflessness and commitment to the greater good is by detailing how his most recent tenure as head coach of the Apollo-Ridge girls basketball team came to be.

After being off the bench for a decade and time being of the essence for a program to not skip a beat, the then-athletic director knew there was only one way to prevent any setbacks from occurring. He took on the new yet familiar role and subsequently picked up where he left off in 2010. During his first year in 2019-20, one that was entangled in Covid-19 concerns and cancellations, Ray guided the girls varsity team to an 8-5 record, no small feat for someone dealt the hand he was given. A year later, the Vikings

took another leap forward and finished 16-7, with the season ending where every coach would like it to, in the PIAA playoffs.

I had spoken to Ray on the phone in the spring of 2019 when Apollo-Ridge was looking to find the right person to continue the recent success that had been cultivated by departed coach Jim Callipare. I remember the conversation well as it seems the case is with all of my Ray Bartha interactions. After a few rings, a familiar voice quickly skipped all of the normal pleasantries or greetings and said, “So Joe, how would you like to be the next Apollo-Ridge girls basketball coach?” I let out a laugh before even having a chance to say hello as he began to describe the circumstances and time crunch he was under to find a replacement. It was then he said, “Joe, I just want these girls to have the kind of chance they deserve — they’re a good group, and I think they have a chance to be pretty good.” That was Ray being Ray, seeing the big

picture as he always seems to do. Except what’s always included in his observance of the big picture is the best interest of others.

A quote that is near and dear to me and my beliefs that has Ray Bartha written all over it, by the author Harold Kushner reads: “I suspect that the happiest people you know are the ones who work at being kind, helpful and reliable – and happiness sneaks into their lives while they are busy doing those things. It is a by-product, never a primary goal.”

I suspect that Ray Bartha has experienced a great deal of happiness throughout his life on and off the basketball court — but what I’m certain of is how he is the epitome of Kushner’s suggestion of character. Always kind, always helpful, and tremendously reliable is Ray Bartha.

It is with that I wish Ray Bartha all of the happiness on this most recent honor, because of his kindness, helpful nature, and reliability. But even more, I wish him happiness and further success because that’s quite simply what he deserves.

Thank you, Ray. Not just from this humble journalist, but from everyone as fortunate as I have been to be influenced by you and the high character you’ve continuously shown over the years. The impact you have made is greater than most. So much so that even you may be unable to quantify how far-reaching it is.

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