In his first year of varsity basketball after transferring from Walker Valley High School, Brett Barton scored a season-high 19 points for Silverdale Baptist Academy in a last-second loss to Polk County on Dec. 13.
The 6-foot-3 junior was greeted after the game by his sisters and brothers-in-law, Whitney and Todd Stevison and Ashley and Collin Cooke, and by members of Silverdale coach Randy Evans' family. The active support system in place meant a lot to Barton.
At one point he didn't think he had one.
Times couldn't have been any harder for the Barton family than they were on Sept. 1, 2009, when they found out that Brett's father, David, had committed suicide.
David Barton, a former University of Georgia kicker, suffered from depression and had tried to kill himself on other occasions, Brett said. At the time of his suicide, he had just left a treatment program.
Brett was in the eighth grade at the time.
"That's why it hit me so hard," he explained recently. "It was a process. My dad never forgave himself for some things that had happened in his life. We thought he was safe in the program when it happened, so it caught us off guard."
The death was particularly hard for the youngest Barton to face.
"When his dad passed away, he wouldn't get out of bed or go to school," said Evans, who was Brett's coach at the time at Cleveland Middle School. "I would literally pick him up and make him shower. There were times he never wanted to be alive, much less in school, around people or even playing basketball."
Evans made a vow to the 14-year-old: He promised he'd always be there for Brett.
It's a pledge he's kept through the years.
"I didn't want them to be just words," Evans said. "I meant it. Brett still has other family members in his life; I just wanted to be someone outside of that family circle to bounce life off of."
For a while, it worked. Then one day, Barton got home from school, locked all the doors in the house and created a mix of bleach and Drano to drink. His inner turmoil had led him to believe that he, too, had no other options in life.
"I thought to myself, 'This is it,'" he said.
He consumed the drink and immediately started to throw up. In a house all by himself, the ending he desired at the time was near but wasn't meant to be.
His sister Ashley, who lives about a mile away from her mother's house where Brett lived, was out grocery shopping and headed home when she felt the need to drop by. When she got there, seeing all of the doors were locked, she quickly realized that something was wrong.
"I knew at that point that Brett had been having a hard time, so I was already worried about him," she said. "I just had a strange feeling, and now I feel as if the Lord was telling me to go by there. I immediately ran to a bottom door that was usually locked, but it wasn't that day.
"He was downstairs on the floor when I found him, and he told me what happened and I called 911.
"The Lord definitely had his hand on Brett."
Evans had a similar feeling that day. He had just dropped off the then-freshman but was bothered that Barton "had been crying on the way home." Also living close to the Barton house, Evans pulled into his driveway and told his wife Diana that "something just didn't feel right."
When he got back to the house, he saw Ashley in a panic and Brett on the phone with 911, foaming at the mouth. Evans stayed downstairs while Ashley went up and waited on the ambulance to arrive.
Brett was rushed to the hospital, where he lay for "a day or two," he said. He awoke to family and friends worried about his well-being.
"I call that time a low; I had never been that low," he said. "It was just a hopeless, no-other-option impulse. I thought that I had no other options. When I woke up from passing out, I realized that there were too many people here to abandon and do the same thing to them that had happened to me."
Barton played his freshman season at Walker Valley but missed his sophomore year because of a broken ankle. Mustangs coach Bob Williams likened him to one of his favorite players: Chris Mullin.
"He was strong with an ability to post up or shoot the 3," Williams said. "We never got to see his full potential because of his injury, and he was struggling so much at the time to figure things out the best he could."
Barton quickly transferred to Silverdale upon hearing that Evans had taken the Seahawks job over the summer. As well as adjusting to a new school, Barton struggled with getting back to playing basketball again after last season's injury.
Wearing No. 23 in honor of his father, he's averaged 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game but isn't satisfied with how he's played.
"I'm not physically to the point where I need to be," he said. "I'm not used to averaging less than 10 points per game, but now I'm in a different role and it's more difficult. I can't do some things -- can't drive at times because I'm hurting, and I get winded because I'm not as physically fit as I want to be."
Because Barton didn't play last season, he was eligible immediately for the Seahawks. Evans proclaimed the circumstances of getting the Silverdale job and the opportunity to be reunited with Barton in a coach-player relationship as a "God thing." The two have been able to re-create the bond Evans vowed they would have more than three years ago.
It also provides a chance for Barton to get away from things that used to bother him a lot.
"The past few years I've gone through stuff that you can't prepare for at a young age," he said. "For a while I felt on my own. I was raised in the church, so it wasn't like I didn't have positive influences.
"When I'm on the basketball court, it's like a refuge. When I'm out there and do well, there's praise, but then everything would fade to black, so I enjoyed the moments and not having to worry about anything else."
Barton has said that if he has no college basketball opportunities, he might consider a military option.
"If basketball is what God wants me to do, he'll show me," he said. "I'll work my hardest, but I have examined other courses to take. I love the push and the routine of the military, as well as being a part of things bigger than me."
In the meantime, his family and friends continue to provide strong support. The Cookes attend every game he plays -- home and away -- and his mom and the Stevisons are there often as well.
"When I played basketball and my sister played volleyball, my parents were at every single game," Ashley said. "We now feel it's our responsibility to take their place. We can never fill the role of Dad, but we never want Brett to feel as if his family has diminished. We want him to feel our support.
"Before, we thought it was your family's job to be there. Now we realize it's a blessing to have [family] there, because you don't know how long they'll be there watching."
There's no manual for a child losing his father, especially in the adolescent stage Barton was going through. Although life has been tumultuous at times, the best thing Barton can say is that he's still here.
"Things aren't as dark as they had been," he said. "There are moments where I reflect and get kind of down, but I have a whole list of people I can talk to. Coach Evans is like a father figure, but at the same time he's a friend. He's always open to helping me out."
Cooke praised her brother for being an excellent male figure, although he's nine years younger than she and six years younger than Whitney.
"It would be difficult for any family, but especially for Brett because he was a 14-year-old boy who had lost his dad," she said. "He's really tried to step up and be strong for the family. A lot of people would have given up on everything. It hasn't been easy for him, but I think he's done a good job."
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