When Lincoln Barit began coaching, he was barely older than his current players at Waialua High School.
He was a young father. His dream of playing college football ended when he chose to be a family man. The life as a coach, at Pop Warner and high school levels, never ended. That is, until now.
“For me, the best part is watching the players grow. Teaching them respect. I always tell them, to get respect you’ve got to show respect. Right now, we’re losing that as a society,” said Barit, who invested 35 seasons as varsity head coach. “I always enjoyed it. Every year is a good year, all the kids who have gone through the program. I have a good job, I have a family, that’s what it’s all about.”
How do you replace the heart and soul of a football program after 35 years? Athletic Director Darnell Arceneaux, a former Saint Louis and Utah standout, saw a lot of elements in and around prep sports change during the pandemic.
“I think COVID put a lot of things in perspective for a lot of people,” he said.
One of them is Barit.
“I think the pandemic was a blessing for me. I finally realized that going home every day, spending a lot of time with my wife, my grandchildren, 12 of them, six boys, six girls,” he said. “I used to come home, go to the weight room, practice, get home at 9. I realized that I missed a lot of my sons and my daughter (Ashley) growing up, missed their activities.”
If it sounds like “Cat’s in the Cradle,” it shouldn’t. Sons Keoki (‘Iolani), Justin (Waialua), Chaz (Kamehameha) and Jacob (Saint Louis) found their niche in football, too.
Football isn’t the only longtime activity Barit is giving up. Next year, he will retire from HECO. Football, of course, is a unique world of wonders, of relationships.
“I’m going to miss it. The fellowship with the other coaches. Being out there with the kids. Watching them go from boys to adults,” Barit said.
He isn’t going to drift away from the sport.
“I can train my oldest boy’s son. He’s in seventh grade. I built a small weight room at home. My other grandson, he’s on the Big Island. He’s a cowboy, so he does rodeo. I’m trying to get him to play for Konawaena,” Barit said. “He mugs 150- to 200-pound calves, so tackling should be easy.”
In fact, Barit sees a life away from Waialua.
“I’m trying to convince my wife to move to Kona. It’s so nice. Maybe one day, look for land and retire over there,” he said.
After graduating from Waialua in 1979, Barit was planning to play college football. But family took priority.
“I had to carry lunch can at an early age. I got my wife pregnant,” he said. “I was supposed to go to Mt. Hood (Community College).”
Instead of spending the next few years in college, he went to work and started coaching at Waialua.
“In 1980, I was a security guard. I coached under (the late) Fred Lavarias. I opened the weight room for the kids and I loved it. (The late) Bruce Ishimoto, Homer Keanu, George Watanabe — the offensive line coach. When I played for him, he used to pinch us on the arm every time we made a mistake. If it wasn’t for them, I would be at the University of Halawa,” Barit said, referring to the prison facility. “They took me under their wing and I ended up giving back.”
Later, he coached in Pop Warner with the Waialua Bulldogs for five years. Eventually, Chico Capello hired him to be the junior varsity coach at Waialua High.
“I started providing for my wife and kid, but I kept coaching and I love coaching, and I love the players. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have a team. And coaches like Wendell Say. He was my mentor. He was an assistant at Aiea when I was an assistant (at Waialua),” Barit said.
Say is the unofficial dean of OIA coaches. He is entering his 42nd year as a coach, including 30 at the helm at Aiea.
“Lincoln has always done a good job. He was perfect for Waialua High School, perfect for the community. Graduate, alumni, good player, good coach, good for everyone,” he said. “They were fortunate to have him. When I heard he was leaving, I was, ‘Ohhh…’ But he can come help me now.”
Darren Hernandez began his varsity coaching career at Campbell, then built Kapolei’s program from scratch. His head coaching career started around the same time as Barit’s.
“He is a players’ coach. His players love him. He’s like a transformational coach where the kids, it’s not just about football. It’s life lessons and character. I was honored to coach against him,” Hernandez said. “I coached with him a couple of times in all-star games. We’re losing a good man. He’s always been a standup guy for the kids. I have a lot of respect for him.”
Waialua had its ups and downs with talent and numbers, but Barit was part of it all. When the Bulldogs won the Blue Conference title in 1992, he was an assistant coach. In 2016, the Bulldogs charged to the OIA Division II crown. The nature of a small school meant that they were title contenders in some years, and struggled to win in others.
“He’s a good man. I love the guy. He always did things the right way,” Say said. “His idea was, he’s going to work with what they have and do the best he can. He had some great years and they did a heck of a job as coaches. I’m going to miss seeing the guy over there. He’s iconic over there.”
Barit credited his wife, Kuulei, for a long, successful coaching career.
“If it wasn’t for my wife, providing everything at home, every coach needs a good wife. She would set up the fundraisers and everything. It made my job easier. I’m so glad she was there next to me through everything,” he said.
Everything includes the changes in culture for young student-athletes.
“Oh yeah, yeah. You can see the changes in the kids. Not too much of a change, but they’re more independent and fast to go in another direction. You always have to stay on them. Back then, they enjoyed coming to practice, but it’s not too much of a change. We coach and instill our values,” Barit said.
There are many young men whose lives were impacted by Barit and his staff. One of them was a determined player by the name of Borges. Barit doesn’t remember his first name, but he recalls the heart of the youngster.
“That was a kid you would have to chase to come to practice. His senior year, I was in the locker room, he gave me a koa pen he made in wood shop. He said, ‘Thank you, coach.’ I saw him years later in Walmart, and he said, ‘Thank you. I have a family. I have a good job. I’m coaching now. You said to me, one day you’re going to come out and coach. Now I’m coaching my daughter’s soccer team.’
“That’s not the only one. There’s so many,” Barit said. “That’s what coaching is about. It’s not the win or the loss. It’s that feeling after they graduate, and you know they’re doing good.”