Former Colorado coach Ceal Barry shown playing for the University of Kentucky in 1976.
Former Colorado coach Ceal Barry shown playing for the University of Kentucky in 1976. (Courtesy photo/Ceal Barry)

In the spring of 1983, 28-year-old Ceal Barry arrived in Boulder hopeful of taking the next step in her career, but uneasy about the obstacles in her way.

A Kentucky native, Barry was lured away from her job as the women's basketball coach at Cincinnati by the opportunity to coach a Colorado team in a higher profile conference, the Big Eight.

In Colorado for the first time in her life, she had no idea where to shop, let alone recruit.

She also joined an athletic department that had no other females in coaching or administrative positions and was just three years removed from cutting seven varsity programs because it was severely in debt.

"My first year was gloom and doom," Barry, 63, said. "All I ever heard was budget cut, budget cut, budget cut. (CU president) Arnold Weber hired me because I was an accounting major and I had been a head coach and he said, 'Can you run it on this budget? ' And, I said, 'Yeah.'

"I felt like an outsider. I was afraid, a little bit scared. I'm out of my comfort zone. But, there's nothing like knowing if you don't win, you're going to lose your job. There's no greater motivator than fear, I think. If you lose, you're done; and I wanted to coach that bad."

Never one to let obstacles get in her way, Barry turned that motivation into a remarkable career. She won a lot of games, but also had a positive impact on countless people and played a role in the development of women's athletics around the country.


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On June 9, she will be one of seven people inducted into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tenn.

"It's certainly an honor and it's humbling," said Barry, the senior women's administrator in the Buffaloes' athletic department. "It's nice to be recognized. I think anybody would like to think, 'Maybe I was a small part of pushing it forward. I was just a little segment in there to help push the whole thing.'"

Former Colorado coach Ceal Barry won 427 games during time in Boulder.
Former Colorado coach Ceal Barry won 427 games during time in Boulder. (Karl Gehring / The Denver Post)

Barry has had an influential role in the history of women's sports, and not just because she posted a 510-284 record as a college basketball head coach, including 427-242 with 12 NCAA Tournament appearances in 22 seasons at CU.

"I think it's incredible," current CU women's basketball coach JR Payne said of Barry's impact on the university. "Everything she accomplished here just speaks for itself. The record and the young women she coached. What those women are out doing in the world — doctors and coaches and teachers and so many incredible things — speaks to the type of program she ran."

Barry recalls some fortunate circumstances and influential people that put her on the right path, but it's how Barry took advantage of her opportunities — and then made an impact on so many others — that has defined her career.

Barry grew up in Louisville, Ky., at a time when females didn't have many opportunities in sports, especially in public schools. She attended Catholic schools, however.

"There was a public grade school right across the street from my grade school and I would walk to school every day and be so happy I was going to the Catholic school because I got to play sports," she said. "The Catholic schools in the Midwest offered sporting opportunities for girls. We had all the things that probably the public school kids didn't get until the 1980s."

Barry played softball, volleyball, field hockey and track and field. When she got to Assumption, an all-girls Catholic high school, she starred in basketball.

The opportunities in her youth led her to the University of Kentucky, where, as a freshman in the fall of 1973, she played basketball but got a first-hand look at gender inequality in sports.

"It was the first public school I ever went to," Barry said. "The girls sport teams were not valued. There was a huge difference in the men and the women and I didn't like it."

Title IX, which provided more equal educational and athletic opportunities for women, was signed into law by U.S. president Richard Nixon in 1972, but didn't need to be implemented until 1975. Barry got an up-close view of the before and after of that landmark law.

"Experiencing Title IX at age 20, I had a much broader perspective of why it was needed," Barry said.

CU associate AD Ceal Barry, right, has spent the past 13 years working in the athletic department under athletic directors Mike Bohn and Rick George.
CU associate AD Ceal Barry, right, has spent the past 13 years working in the athletic department under athletic directors Mike Bohn and Rick George. (Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer)

Barry's first coach at Kentucky, Sue Feamster, was the director of women's sports at the school and leaned on Barry, who was not only a driven accounting major, but poured her heart and time into athletics.

Kentucky had an annual budget of $3,000 for all of its women's programs combined, which meant players and coaches typically had to fund road trips and meals. Often those trips started with Barry picking up the station wagons for the team, which would leave at Noon, drive a few hours to a regional opponent, play that night, stop at McDonalds for dinner and drive back to Lexington.

"We did that all the time," Barry said.

When Title IX was finally implemented at Kentucky, the budget for women's sports went from $3,000 to $100,000. That was life-altering for Barry - who, as a senior, became the first women's basketball player in Kentucky history to be on scholarship - and many others around the country.

Prior to Barry's senior year, Kentucky hired a full-time women's basketball coach, Debbie Yow, for the first time.

"When Debbie Yow came, that probably changed me," Barry said. "That was probably the biggest switch for me in terms of what I wanted to do with my life."

While Feamster had been encouraging Barry to pursue a career as a women's athletic director, the hiring of Yow showed Barry that coaching - something she had long considered - was a real option. Barry was inspired by the way Yow ran the program. Yow, in turn, was grateful for the impact Barry had on that team.

"The squad she captained was Kentucky's first-ever nationally ranked women's team," said Yow, now the athletic director at North Carolina State. "She never takes credit for leading the team, but she did. It was obvious that the others respected her. She played all out and enjoyed the team environment.

"Her extraordinary success as a coach and administrator is, in part, a reflection of her ability to connect with people. That trait was present even when she was an undergraduate."

Shortly after Barry graduated, Yow helped her land a position as a graduate assistant at Cincinnati - first under former NBA player Tom Thacker and then Juliene Simpson. During those two years, Barry spent parts of her summers working in San Francisco at a camp run by Billie Moore, who coached Team USA's first Olympic appearance, in 1976.

"I learned a ton," Barry said. "There was never a better teacher I saw teach the fundamentals of the game - shot, footwork - it was stuff I used throughout my whole career."

At 24 years old, Barry was offered the head coaching job at Cincinnati and, at the urging of her father and legendary coach Pat Summit, she accepted it and used fear as motivation.

"I'm thinking, 'What if I mess up? What if I don't win? At this point, at age 24, you kinda know you have to win. We won."

After four years and an 83-42 record with the Bearcats, Barry took on the challenge of coaching the Buffaloes.

Although the early 1980s were tough on CU athletics, Barry looks back now and said that by the time she got there "probably the worst was over." It certainly helped that the football program was on the upswing with Bill McCartney entering his second season as head coach.

Barry was hired by athletic director Eddie Crowder, but a year later, he was replaced by Bill Marolt, a CU alum who had coached the Buffs' ski team to seven consecutive national titles in the 1970s.

Along with Yow and Moore, Barry considers Marolt to be one of the three most pivotal influences in her career.

"Bill could relate to a coach who was coaching a non-revenue sport," Barry said. "I think that helped me to report to someone who ... was a Coloradoan and gone to school here, had coached here and had coached a non-revenue sport."

Barry's Buffs went 16-40 in her first two years, but Marolt kept her going.

"He said, 'You're on the right track,'" Barry said. "I think Bill gave me a lot of confidence."

On the recruiting trail, Barry's first signee was Erin Carson, a 5-foot-11 guard from British Columbia. In-state stars Tracy Tripp, from Fort Collins, and Bridget Turner, from Aurora Hinkley, soon followed. Barry also convinced Crystal Ford, a 6-foot-2 center from Kansas City, to pick the last-place Buffs over first-place Missouri.

"My third year we did much better," she said. "We turned it around."

A 21-9 record in Barry's third season began a 12-year run of success that included eight NCAA Tournament appearances. Barry, of course, gives the bulk of the credit to her assistants and players, including Shelley Sheetz, Jamillah Lang, Jenny Roulier and other stars that came through Boulder.

"It was lot of hard work and it was a lot of fun," she said. "I worked at it along with my assistants. I had great assistants. We were all into it. All of Boulder was into it; all of Colorado was into it. It was fun."

Only once did Barry ever consider leaving, in 1988 when she interviewed at Kentucky.

"That had always been my dream job," she said, but added that during that interview she realized CU's program was in better shape.

"I thought, 'I'm where I need to be,'" she said.

She guided the women's basketball program for another 17 years and was only 50 when she retired from coaching after the 2004-05 season. The Buffs had gone 9-19 that season, and CU was no longer the main attraction to in-state recruits.

In her final years, Barry saw the top in-state players picking Baylor, Connecticut, Duke, Notre Dame, and Stanford over CU.

"It kind of crushed me really; it still kind of hurts, to see those in-state players in the 80s and the 90s who thought it was an honor to play at Colorado and the next decade they don't think we were good enough," Barry said. "I took that personally.

"I just felt like I wasn't doing the job at the level it should be done."

In the ensuing years, Barry's mother would tell her she never should have resigned, but Barry said, "You can't go through life second-guessing decisions that you make."

Chancellor Phil DiStefano immediately hired Barry as an administrator, and she has spent the past 13 years working in the department under athletic directors Mike Bohn and Rick George.

Barry, along with George, has played a significant role in CU's gender equity plan — which is among the best in the country — while overseeing positive changes in volleyball, soccer and other sports.

"Just an icon here on campus, and not just in the athletic department," said CU associate AD Lance Carl, who was a freshman football player during Barry's first season in Boulder. "When I think of Ceal Barry, I think of stability and I think of someone who really genuinely cares for CU and our student athletes and wants to see them be the best that they can be when they leave here.

"To me, she's been very valuable as a mentor for me. She was able to give me a one-on-one of the department and kind of hold my hand a little when I started here four years ago (in administration). Ceal and I have had a relationship over the years and she's just an amazing woman."

Growing up in a time of transition for women's athletics, Barry admits she was among the skeptics when Title IX was passed, wondering "how will we ever catch up?"

More than 45 years later, women's sports do not generate the same type of revenue that men's sports do, but in many ways there is equality. It's because of people like Barry, who cultivated a love for sports on the grade school blacktops in Louisville five decades ago, and then became a Hall of Famer by winning games and opening doors for others.

"At the end of the day, athletics and sports and activity and participation in all of those things are good for our country, good for our kids, good for students," she said. "It's a good thing for people to participate in; otherwise I wouldn't be involved in it."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33

Barry's coaching career

 

Season Team Overall Conference Postseason

1979-80 Cincinnati18-12 — —

1980-81 Cincinnat i27-9 — WNIT consolation

1981-82 Cincinnati 19-10 — —

1982-83 Cincinnati19-11 — —

1983-84 Colorado 10-18 3-11 —

1984-85 Colorado 6-22 2-12 —

1985-86 Colorado 21-9 9-5 —

1986-87 Colorado 14-14 6-8 —

1987-88 Colorado 21-11 8-6 —

1988-89 Colorado 27-4 14-0 NCAA second round

1989-90 Colorado 17-11 10-4 —

1990-91 Colorado 18-11 8-6 —

1991-92 Colorado 22-9 11-3 NCAA first round

1992-93 Colorado 27-4 12-2 NCAA elite eight

1993-94 Colorado 27-5 12-2 NCAA sweet 16

1994-95 Colorado 30-3 14-0 NCAA elite eight

1995-96 Colorado 26-9 9-5 NCAA second round

1996-97 Colorado 23-9 12-4 NCAA sweet 16

1997-98 Colorado 12-16 5-11 —

1998-99 Colorado 15-14 7-9 WNIT second round

1999-2000 Colorado10-19 4-12 —

2000-01 Colorado 22-9 11-5 NCAA second round

2001-02 Colorado 24-10 11-5 NCAA elite eight

2002-03 Colorado 24-8 11-5 NCAA sweet 16

2003-04 Colorado 22-8 11-5 NCAA first round

2004-05 Colorado 9-19 2-14 —

Total 510-284