When I think of an athlete who was determined, persistent or displayed perseverance throughout his career, my thoughts always return to Aaron Barnette, a 2002 graduate of Independence High School.
At 12 years old, Aaron got a later start in wrestling than some of his peers who had already wrestled as many as five or six years. However, he caught on quick. With help from coaches Dave Walker and Cliff Warden, Aaron was an immediate success.
“My dad (Alan Barnette) helped a lot, also,” he said. “He did not know much about wrestling but he knew what it took to succeed.”
Alan had played football at Parkersburg South High School and West Virginia Tech.
Aaron won many tournament titles during his youth and junior high days, including the WSAZ-TV Invitational, whom many regard as the junior high/middle school state tournament.
In his sophomore year of high school, Aaron’s success continued. Wrestling in the 171-pound class, he got hot at the right time and captured the Coalfield Conference title, Region 3 title, and West Virginia state championship all within a month’s time. His work ethic never changed. After the state tournament his life was filled with wrestling camps, clinics and open tournaments. He was determined to get better.
However, in his junior year, things took a turn for the worse. Aaron was also an accomplished football player and started for the Patriots. He suffered a knee injury during a game that sidelined him for the remainder of football season and all of wrestling season.
Aaron worked hard in recovery and returned his senior year bigger and stronger than ever. He entered the state tournament finals with a 44-1 record but lost a heartbreaker in the 189-pound championship match.
Aaron had always dreamed of wrestling for a Division I college, but few schools showed any interest in him. So after high school, with support from his parents, he enrolled in prep school at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania. With his success at Mercersburg, he started to get some notice from college coaches. Paul Mance, head coach at Appalachian State University,was very familiar with Aaron. Independence graduate and Appalachian State alumnus Jeremy Hart had lured Aaron to a few of the Mountaineer camps and Mance liked what he saw.
Aaron was offered a scholarship to the Boone, N.C., school and started on the varsity team as a true freshman. Even though he was a four-year starter, the injury bug would not leave him alone. He went through multiple knee surgeries and one shoulder surgery during his career, but he always came back, never quit. Quitting was not in his family makeup.
His high school coach, Ed Gilson, stated, “I’ve never seen more dedicated parents than Alan and Rochelle Barnette. And look at their boys. Aaron wrestled at Appalachian State and younger brother, Adam, wrestled at Oklahoma and George Mason University. They both turned out to be fine young men.”
Aaron graduated from App State and is the U.S. Director of Clinical Sales for the Naviswiss Corporation specializing in hip replacements.. He currently lives in Tampa, Fla., with his wife, Adriana, and kids Abigail (10) and Alec (6). Abigail is a competitive golfer and Alec is showing interest in the sport of wrestling.
Parents Alan and Rochelle retired a couple of years ago and moved to Tampa to be close to the family, and brother Adam also lives nearby.
“We’ve definitely got the Barnette connection down here in Florida,” Aaron jokes. “I love it.”
Aaron is a 2020 member of the Raleigh County Wrestling Hall of Fame.
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This week a squeeze of the water bottle goes to Bob Bolen Sr., a good friend and an avid reader of this column.