SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT: Brotherhood a major theme of Tony Barnhart's talk to Benedictine Cadets

By Noell Barnidge
Some things in life are invaluable. You cannot put a price on them. Brotherhood is one of those things. On Feb. 15, Benedictine Military School was honored to have Tony Barnhart, known nationally as “Mr. College Football,” visit BC to talk with our Cadets.

The 2022 college football season will be Barnhart’s 47th as a reporter for newspapers, television, Internet, and radio. He joined the SEC Network, which launched in 2014, and contributes to the network’s studio programming, as well as columns on Barnhart rose to prominence as the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution from 1994-2008, before moving on to reporting roles at ESPN and CBS Sports.

Among the many topics that Barnhart discussed during his one-hour presentation in BC Gym, perhaps the most moving was when he explained the bond that he shares with his Delta Tau Delta fraternity brothers from Georgia Southern College (now University).

Barnhart graduated from Greene County High School in 1971, and he graduated from the University of Georgia in 1976 with a journalism degree. The Union Point, Ga., native began his college career in the fall of 1971 at Georgia Southern, where he joined Delta Tau Delta and became friends with Carl Brantley (whose nephew, Troy Brantley, is married to Benedictine Military School Spanish teacher Mrs. Lee Brantley).

“I decided I wanted to go to Georgia Southern,” Barnhart said. “One of the first people I met when I came to Georgia Southern was Carl Brantley of Savannah, Georgia. We bonded right away and, basically, I didn’t go home very much because it was so far from Statesboro. But the Brantley family basically adopted me. We would go to lunch at Carl’s home on Sunday. Nanny and Pop were his mom and dad. I’ll never forget Nanny and Pop. And they would treat us to a feast … Carl Brantley, if you’ve never had a chance to meet him, is a special guy. Carl became my fraternity brother, my best friend, Best Man at my wedding, and the godfather to my daughter. Special guy. Trust me when I tell you that I am thrilled to be in Savannah. It is a special place for me.”

Another of Mr. Barnhart’s fraternity brothers and lifelong friends is Mike Dillon, Benedictine Military School Class of 1968. Dillon was Barnhart’s fraternity “big brother” at Georgia Southern. Dillon and several of his Delta Tau Delta brothers attended the assembly at BC to support Barnhart, who included a photograph of himself with Dillon in his presentation. He also included a photograph of himself with his fraternity brothers Carl Brantley, Tom McMillen, and Robbie Chester, that was taken moments after the University of Georgia football team’s 33-18 victory over Alabama in the Feb. 10 national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“Outside of my wedding day, and the birth of my child, and the birth of my grandchildren, this is one of the greatest moments of my life,” Barnhart said, pointing to the photo from the game. “It’s not because Georgia won a national championship, although 41 years is a heck of a long time to wait, I’ll tell you that, but the fact I got to share it with them, that we will have that memory.”

Barnhart did not cover Georgia’s football national championship victory from the press box. Instead, he sat in the stands with Brantley, McMillen, and Chester.

“We are scattered throughout different parts of the country, but we make it a point to see each other every year in Jacksonville (for the Georgia-Florida game),” Barnhart said. “College brought us together, but college football has kept our 50-year friendship alive. So, I promised the boys that if Georgia got to the national championship game, I would sit in the stands and watch with them, something I’ve done twice over the past 35 years.”

Barnhart reminded Benedictine Military School’s Cadets that they, too, share a special bond with their BC brothers.

“When you get to the fourth quarter of your life, moments like these, relationships that you’ve built – you see these men over here who have come to be a part of this, my fraternity brothers – there’s only so many people in your life you can call at 3 o’clock in the morning when you can’t sleep or something’s wrong and you need some help,” Barnhart said, pointing to his left. “I promise you, these men sitting over here, if I called them at 3 o’clock in the morning and I told them I needed help, they’d drop whatever they’re doing and come help me. Those are the things, as you get later in your life, you’re going to cling to like a warm blanket on a winter’s night.”

Before speaking to BC’s Cadets, Barnhart was given a guided tour of BC’s campus. After his talk, Mrs. Brantley presented him with a BC hat, BC football T-shirt, and BC polo shirt.

“I had a chance to take a tour of your incredible school earlier this morning, and let me tell you, gentlemen, this place is special,” Barnhart said. “You already know that. But I’m telling you, as an outsider coming in, this place is special. The value system that you hold dear is special. Let me share with you. From time to time, I worry about our country. I worry about where we’re headed. I’ve got two grandchildren. But you know what? I come to a place like Benedictine, I don’t worry anymore. Because, as your website says, you are the next generation of leaders and thinkers. The future is good in your hands.

“This morning, I was excited about being here because I get to be in the presence of the Georgia AAAA state championship team,” Barnhart continued. “If you played on the football team, if you support the football team, if you work for the team, if you’re a coach, athletic director, whatever, stand up. I want to recognize you and your state championship. Congratulations, men. That is awesome.”

Barnhart reminded BC’s Cadets to “always remember to make time for service to others.” He also encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

“Men, you can’t possibly understand this now but there are some advantages to getting old,” Barnhart said. “There really are. You learn what works. You learn what doesn’t work. You find out who will be there when you need them in the tough times. Because that’s when it really matters. Anybody can step up in the good times but who are the people who are going to be there in the tough times? Coaches always tell me, ‘You don’t know who your real friends are until you get fired.’ And that’s when you find out who your real friends are. In my life, as a sportswriter and a broadcaster, I’ve been incredibly fortunate. I’ve been able to see the world. I’ve covered 33 national football championships, 23 Final Fours. And when you grow up where I did in Union Point, Ga., population 1,500, you wonder if you should put some sort of limit on your dreams.

“My teachers and coaches always told me there should not be any limits on your dreams,” Barnhart continued. “I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the truly great leaders in this country. They were coaches. They were men and women of extraordinary vision who had the extraordinary ability to lead and to change the world for the better. And in that time, there’s a set of lessons and values that all these different people have that I’ve been able to learn. I have five lessons that I’ve been able to learn, and I want to share them with you. No matter where you are, I hope you will take these to heart and take them with you.”

Barnhart explained his “Five Lessons To Take With You,” which are: “1. Discipline yourself so others won’t need to; 2. Always be skeptical but never be cynical; 3. One person, making one move … can change the world … and you can be that person; 4. There is no substitute for persistence … don’t give up, don’t ever give up; and 5. Always … always … strive to believe in something bigger than yourself.”

Barnhart told stories about his times interviewing people like retired Georgia Bulldogs Football Head Coach Vince Dooley, retired Florida Gators Football Head Coach Steve Spurrier, Duke University Basketball Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and the late North Carolina State University Basketball Head Coach Jim Valvano. Barnhart also talked about “Name, Image, Likeness,” (NIL), that is transforming the college athletics landscape into “the wild, wild west,” he said. (He fully supports college student-athletes getting paid but said it needs to be regulated, and he blames the NCAA’s inactivity for many years for creating a mess).

To end his talk, Barnhart read the following poem, “The Dash,” by Linda Ellis:

THE DASH (By Linda Ellis)
I read of a man who stood to speak
At the funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
From the beginning ... to the end

He noted that first came the date of birth
And spoke the following date with tears,
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not, how much we own,
The cars ... the house ... the cash.
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

So, think about this long and hard.
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged.

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel.

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile,
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life's actions to rehash ...
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?
“To the students and faculty of Benedictine Military School, to THE 400, thank you for this opportunity,” Barnhart said. “I wish you Godspeed as you continue to make your dash ‘Forward, Always Forward.’ Go Cadets! Thank you.”