BRENTWOOD – Thursday marked the official end of an era at Brentwood High School. Legendary volleyball coach Barbara Campbell has resigned from her position after 33 years as the Lady Bruins head coach.
“It’s heartbreaking, it really is,” said Campbell, who overcame a stroke to join her team for one more state championship in October – her program’s record-setting eighth consecutive Class AAA title.
Campbell, who just turned 70, was on medical leave last semester after her stroke and her doctors advised her not to return this month, she said.
“This is torture to leave my program, but it’s in my best interest and it’s time to let go,” Campbell said.
Campbell spent Thursday with some of her team over pizza to announce the decision. This week has been loaded with reminiscing as her and her daughters – also former Lady Bruin players themselves – helped clean out her school office.
There were stacks of newspaper clippings, awards, signed volleyballs from some of Brentwood’s greatest players and teams, while the championship memorabilia alone made the office look like a Hall of Fame museum more than anything.
Campbell is one of the top three all-time winningest volleyball coaches in the nation with a state-best 1,765 victories and a more than 85% win percentage. In the last 33 years, Brentwood has reached the state tournament 28 times with 16 state titles and seven runner-up trophies.
“I just keep everything and it reminds me of how blessed I am to have had so many amazing kids and families go through this program,” Campbell said. “It is just an amazing feeling. I’m really at a loss and I’m really not sure I would be doing this if it weren’t for health issues – I love it so much.”
The veteran coach and educator was inducted into the TSSAA Hall of Fame in 2018.
Campbell said she is still battling some ongoing health issues, but she’d rather not elaborate on. She said September’s health scare rocked her and her family to the core. Campbell ultimately suffered a stroke on Sept. 29, 2020. She eventually had a drain in her head for several days to relieve bleeding in her brain.
Campbell remained hospitalized while her team took on the postseason without their leader for the first time. Longtime assistants Angie Noble and Cathy Cram tried to make the transition as smooth as possible in an already difficult season because of COVID-19.
Brentwood had to overcome missing players due to quarantine on several occasions, but still found a way to reach the state tournament and ultimately the state championship game for a ninth season in a row.
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Noble said it was only fitting that Campbell returned to the bench if the Lady Bruins reached the final.
“I just knew she should be here,” Noble said. “She started this whole thing and she needs to be here as it continues.”
Just before the Class AAA volleyball championship began on Oct. 23, 2020, Campbell, flanked by her daughters and husband, Mike, walked into Siegel High School.
She took her seat at the end of the bench where a queen's crown had been holding her spot for the previous 10 matches. The gym buzzed as if everyone’s favorite celebrity walked by. Barb was back, though, no one knew it would be for the last time.
The Lady Bruins dominated that title match playing mistake-free volleyball for not one, but three sets to sweep tournament-host and rival Siegel. The championship took just 63 minutes as Brentwood surged behind the emotional boost of having coach Campbell on the sideline one more time for banner No. 16.
“That was just a ‘wow feeling,’” Campbell said. “I was so proud of those girls. They played flawlessly."
Campbell, like she’s done for more than three decades, was already prepping for the upcoming season after that last title win, but continued health issues – as well as spending more time with new granddaughter Nora Rain – has slowed her processes.
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“It’s what I always do,” she said. “It’s not like I set a date to leave and tried to stick with it. I really feel like this isn’t on my terms so it makes it really hard – extremely hard – but it’s with a very heavy heart and for the best. This is time. This is time for me to go.
“I’m so proud of the rich tradition and the legacy left by so many great young women here. They are all in my heart, always.”
The school is actively searching for a replacement.