Haverford School’s Barlow takes third Wrestler of Year award

HAVERFORD — When it came time to take pictures for the All-Delco team, Haverford School senior Chauncey Simmons, a heavyweight, scanned the list of honorees.

“L.J. (Barlow) won Wrestler of the Year again?’ Simmons asked.

He did.

“He’s won it twice already, though’ Simmons retorted, tongue-in-cheek. “He never wrestled me in the room.’

Although the big man had a point, Barlow did wrestle nearly everyone else. He beat most of them too. The Wallingford resident compiled a career record of 174-25. Barlow won three Pennsylvania Independent School Wrestling Tournaments in a row from his sophomore season on. He finished top-four in nationals each of his four years. He went 52-6 as a senior in the 195-pound weight class and was named Inter-Ac Wrestler of the Year.

Barlow will graduate as the most accomplished wrestler in Haverford School history and the first three-time Daily Times Wrestler of the Year.

“It’s very rewarding. I’m honored. I like to make my family proud,’ said Barlow. “It’s a big accomplishment and I feel blessed. It means a lot to me.’

Barlow is joined on the All-Delco First Team by his teammate Simmons (285) as well as Vince Tavani (Haveford High, 106), Jake Mejias (Upper Darby, 113), Matthew Marino (Garnet Valley, 120), Nick Puliti (Garnet Valley, 126), Colin Cronin (Upper Darby, 132), Sean Donohue (Sun Valley, 138), Eric Thomas (Interboro, 138), Pat Rowe (Garnet Valley, 152), Alex Elliott (Sun Valley, 160), Tom Meyers (Radnor, 170), Steve Okoorian (Sun Valley, 170), Joe Pyfer (Penncrest, 182), and Joshua Yeboah-Gyasi (Upper Darby, 220).

The All-Delco teams and Wrestler of the Year are selected by the Daily Times Staff with consultation from area coaches

* * *

Lawrence Barlow, Jr. got his first taste of high school wrestling as a sixth-grader. His father Larry and Jamie Griffin, an assistant at the Haverford School during L.J.’s tenure, were coaching Episcopal Academy and brought the Churchmen to a camp at Navy, Griffin’s alma mater. The adolescent Barlow tagged along, an idea that initially didn’t sit well with the camp organizers.

“He’ll stay with us the whole time,’ Griffin assured them. “Trust me. He’ll be fine.’

Barlow, young as he was, made himself known.

“He was beating up on all the high school kids during the day,’ remembered Griffin, a longtime mentor. “And then at night, he’d sit in my hotel room and ask me all kinds of questions. Why did I study political science? Who were my favorite teachers?

“I realized then this is a special kid.’

If high schoolers couldn’t handle middle school Barlow, they had little chance when he hit ninth grade. The maturity he displayed in Annapolis became a trademark. So too did an intense determination to reach lofty goals.

“One thing I can’t stand is putting my mind to something and saying, ‘˜I’m going to do well on it, or accomplish that goal,’ and not doing it,’ said Barlow. “That annoys me. That irks me.’

The meticulous pursuit of perfection defines Barlow more than anything. He coifs his hair into a neat fauxhawk with all strands firmly in place. He’s been known to ask photographers if his glasses are on straight before he sits for a picture.

On the mat, he’s determined to turn every match into a title fight. It’s what made him a dominant wrestler at Haverford. It’s what drove him to be one of the top students in his class. Ultimately, it’s why he chose to attend Harvard University to pursue an Economics Degree and a collegiate National Championship.

It’s also what helped him through the toughest year of his life. In February of 2014, Larry, L.J.’s father, was diagnosed with brain cancer. The disease and subsequent treatments sapped the senior Barlow of the energy needed to coach his son.

“Losing out on him being around and him not being there…,’ L.J. said, collecting his thoughts. “Well, there’s a big difference between scouting in person and through the computer. And him not being able to attend my matches hurt emotionally. But I tried to block that out, as hard as that may be.’

Barlow wrestled through severe stress to capture second place at the 2014 Prep Nationals. He called his senior year “an emotional roller coaster.’

But he always had Griffin and his mother Kelly Cagle to lean on to supplement his inner strength.

“When we found out about (his father’s) brain cancer, I lost a wrestling aspect. I lost a support pillar,’ Barlow said. “I still had two others. My coach Jamie Griffin and my mom.

“I have good people in my life who made sure I was doing the right things and I had what I needed.’

Griffin marveled at his protégé’s character through a difficult period.

“What impresses me most is L.J. carries around a lot of stress from expectations,’ Griffin said. “I know it’s something that weighs on him, but he’s dealt with everything in a very admirable way.’

After a trying start to his senior season — he finished a disappointing fifth at the Beast in the East, a tournament he won as a junior — Barlow stormed through the playoffs to find himself on the brink of a national championship again.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. He trailed Hunter Ritter, ranked third nationally in the 195-pound division, by one entering the third period of the title bout. Then, Barlow made a rare mental error.

“I underestimated him,’ Barlow explained. “He tried a move and I thought I was too good to get caught in that move. But apparently I wasn’t.’

In the aftermath, he embraced his father, who made the trip a special sendoff to his son’s scholastic career. The empty feeling soon dissipated. The determination returned.

“To go out on a loss after such a great career is a bummer,’ Barlow admitted. “Then again, the next chapter is bigger.’

He still has accolades left to accrue. Barlow wants to be an All-American for the Crimson. He runs and lifts almost every day, because otherwise, in his words, “I’d have nothing to do. I’m in it for the grind.’

It’s all part of his ultimate goal: to be a good son to his parents; to be a great brother to his five younger siblings.

“I have to perform academically and athletically and I have to be there for them,’ Barlow said, determined as ever. “I want to make sure that I’m doing what’s right so they have a good model to go after. I don’t want them to follow directly in my path. I want them to branch out and do what they want. But I want to give them a good format or outline for what one needs to do to be successful.’

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