Making an impact

Published 2:02 pm Sunday, August 3, 2014

Curtis Barnett from his days on the gridiron. Photo provided

Curtis Barnett from his days on the gridiron. Photo provided

Curtis Barnett was a force for the Austin Packers in the mid-1970s and he went on to have large impact on many lives as a teacher.

Barnett, who was 55 and living in Waseca, succumbed to cancer July 25, 2014, shortly after celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary on July 1 with his wife, Christal.

“He was quite the athlete and he was quite the man,” Christal said. “He was all about sports and kids.”

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Curtis was named Austin’s MVP in football and basketball in 1976 and 1977. Austin resident Kevin Higbe graduated with Curtis and said he was about as good as they come as a teammate.

“He had a heart of gold. If you needed something, Curtis was there,” Higbe said. “Athletic wise it came so easy for him and he was almost nonchalant at times. In high school, he played hard, but I don’t think he even realized what his potential was.”

Curtis played football at Austin Community College and North Dakota State University before he landed at Minnesota State University in Mankato, where he played two seasons as a defensive lineman for the Mavericks.

Charlie Nelson, who now lives in Oklahoma, lined up next to Curtis on defense at MSU and recalled a play where Curtis scored a defensive touch down.

Curtis Barnett on the basketball court for the Austin Packers. Photo provided

Curtis Barnett on the basketball court for the Austin Packers. Photo provided

“We were both rushing the quarterback, and he snuck right in front of me and picked off the pass and ran it back for a TD. I ran up to him and tackled him and I damn near knocked the wind out of him, but it was pretty cool,” Nelson said. “He was a great guy. He was a great teammate and a great friend.”

Nelson stayed in touch with Curtis by coming up to Lake Mille Lacs for fishing trips for four years in a row, but he missed his annual visit this year. Nelson was planning on seeing Curtis in July when he got the call from Christal that his friend had passed away.

“It was kind of a shock; I thought he looked pretty good when I saw him in May,” Nelson said.

Higbe recalled cruising around with Curtis on his vespa scooter in Austin when they were in high school for good times. He said Curtis was usually in a good mood, and he even played sports with a smile on his face.

Curtis taught special education for more than 20 years — with 14 of them being in Austin. He also coached varsity high school football, basketball, track and field, and cross country.

Curtis loved cross country skiing, lifting weights, hunting and being outdoors.

“He was very active,” Christal said. “Loved to fish, loved to hunt pheasants.”

Curtis was diagnosed with cancer March 20, 2013, and it started in the throat and tonsils area. He underwent several surgeries and rounds of treatment before the family decided to stop treatments in June.

Higbe said that Curtis handled his diagnosis with cancer quite well and the two spent a lot of Curtis’s last six months talking and reminiscing about the old days.

“As he battled the illness it took a physical toll on him, but we still managed to get together and hang out,” Higbe said. “I think Curt handled it a whole lot better than most people would or I would. He’s a great friend. He’ll be sorely missed. He was the best all around athlete I think I’ve ever been associated with.”