Roger Barta Born: July 11, 1945 (Ellsworth, KS)
Graduated: Plainville High School, 1963; Fort Hays State University, 1967; University of Georgia, 1971 (M.S.)
Describing Smith Center High School football coach Roger Barta in one word is difficult. Legendary, focused, meticulous, and today, Inductee, all come to mind.
But if you were to ask Barta himself, his former players, or anyone from Smith Center, you might get the best answer of all: teacher.
As then Kansas Representative Jerry Moran stated about Barta and his influence on the Smith Center community in December 2009 on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, “football is just what attracts notoriety and our applause. It’s the building of character and life-long traits that matter in Smith Center.”
Barta always reminded his players that they never judged themselves on wins and losses but instead focused on working hard and constant improvement. Yet, it was precisely that approach to teaching young people the life lessons they would need to be a success off the field that made Barta and his teams so successful on the field over his thirty-five years as head coach in Smith Center.
Born on July 11, 1945, in Ellsworth, but growing up in Plainville, Barta learned from Plainville High School coach Al Hargrave what it meant to make a difference in a young person’s life. It was that influence that guided Barta to finish his mathematics degree at Fort Hays State University in 1967 and his master’s degree from the University of Georgia in 1971 while serving as an assistant football coach at Atwood, Tonganoxie, and Wakeeney.
Hired as the Smith Center High School head football coach in 1978, Barta began building young people into model citizens and teams that were the envy of state. His impact was immediate as Smith Center reached the state championship in Barta’s second season and won their first state football title in his fifth season.
Over the course of Barta’s career, he claimed eight state football championships (1982, 1986, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008), totaling a career coaching record of 323-68. Barta and his teams hold state records for career coaching win percentage with .826, all-time undefeated seasons with seven, consecutive undefeated seasons with five, and consecutive wins with 79 from 2004 to 2009. The win streak, the fourth longest high school win streak in the nation, brought national attention, and even a book, featuring the little town of Smith Center and its football team in 2009.
His teams weren’t flashy and they rarely threw the ball. Barta’s version of the “wish-bone” offense was considered by some to be outdated in today’s game where the spread offense is king. But, there was no question about the results. Barta’s laser-like focus on execution on every play shaped his players and his teams to be just like their coach: tough, focused, and hard-working. Opposing coaches often new exactly where a Smith Center play was going but rarely could do anything to stop it because Smith Center’s attention to detail and effort on every play.
Yet, for all the wins and the state championships, Barta will point out it was never about him. It was about having an influence on the hundreds of kids he taught and building something the entire community of Smith Center could be proud of, regardless of the final score at the end of the game.
To get to the football stadium in Smith Center, you have to drive up the street aptly named “Roger Barta Way.” That “Way”, paved with thirty-five years of dedication and devotion to the players and community he loved, today also leads Roger Barta to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame.