ARLINGTON — There is no shortage of words that can be used to describe Arlington Assistant Wrestling Coach Barry Knott — teacher, singer, coach.
But as the veteran wrestling coach and former teacher faces his toughest battle — pancreatic cancer — there is one more word that keeps cropping up in the community — inspiration.
“Teach - Coach - Inspire - Barry Knott” is a phrase emblazoned on hundreds of purple wristbands, which have made their way onto the hands of wrestlers, officials and students all over the country, and even as far as Norway.
“He was my teacher and wrestling coach,” said Karen Barney, a 1984 graduate of Nathan Hale High School, where Knott taught English and coached wrestling for 16 years. “He was a lot of fun. He had a great sense of humor. All of his students and wrestlers loved him. He stepped into a losing wrestling program and turned it around.”
When Barney and Knott connected on Facebook after more than 20 years, Barney was touched by Knott’s 2012 cancer diagnosis and decided to make an effort to show her support.
“In June of last year I was diagnosed with a brain tumor,” said Barney, who now lives in Utah and has four sons who wrestle competitively in high school and college. “It was close to home when I saw he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When he started talking on Facebook about his cancer there was such a big response because he’s got thousands of students all over the world.”
Barney and other fellow students started communicating and brainstorming ways to show support, despite being so geographically distant.
“I thought about bracelets so that everyone could have one,” said Barney. “He doesn’t know how many people’s lives he touched.”
Knott first opened a Facebook page several years ago and quickly started seeing friend requests from former athletes and students.
“I added one student who posted on my page, ‘You know, you were the only teacher that ever gave a s--t about me. You always built me up.’ In those words,” said Knott. “Then, what I saw happen was students would see I was a friend of a friend and would add me. Now I have more than 1,500 former athletes and students on there.”
He had quite the support system when, in May 2012, he went to the emergency room because he was having stomach pain. After several tests he was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis. About a month after that he was diagnosed with cancer when doctors discovered a tumor in his pancreas.
“At first I had one doctor whom I asked, ‘What’s the worst case scenario?’ and he said, ‘Four to six weeks.’ On the drive home my wife and I started talking about getting everything in order,” said Knott. “I got a referral for Virginia Mason, and when I walked in, there were three doctors looking over my file. I told one of them what my first doctor told me and his eyes got wide and he said, ‘What are you talking about? You’ll be around in a year if we don’t do anything.’ So I’m really working with the best people.”
Knott is going through 12 chemotherapy sessions and is on his seventh treatment. “Their hope is that it will shrink the tumor and then I will have surgery to remove it,” he said. “I have a strong faith in God.”
Chemotherapy isn’t the only struggle that Knott has faced since the diagnosis. He has already had surgery to place four stints in his bile duct and duodenum to keep the tumor from blocking them, and his gall bladder has been removed.
Despite the struggle to beat the cancer, Knott is touched by the reactions of his students and those who wear the wristbands in his honor.
“I was just amazed. I mean, this is a girl who I hadn’t seen for years,” he said of Barney. “My whole team is wearing these bracelets. They had 18 referees wearing the bracelets at a tournament in Reno, Nev., and five at a team tournament in Utah.”
Overall, Knott is humbled by the all of the words of encouragement and support.
“I’m thrilled to be working with my good friend, head coach Rick Iversen,” said Knott. “Rick has been so supportive and I love him like a brother. It’s been a real blessing and encouragement. I’m fighting the good fight and I have a lot of people supporting me.”
Barney is glad that Knott can see just how much he means to his students, athletes and community.
“Now he’ll get the opportunity to feel how much of a difference he’s made in his community and how much they support him,” she said. “I wanted to give back to him because he has no idea what he gave to us.”