Sam Barrett wasn’t really looking forward to driving to Anne Arundel Community College’s field Saturday at first. The carpool ride had an empty seat. Jacob Kotelchuck, the other usual passenger of the trio, felt it, too.
“The hardest part was picking [Barrett] up,” Kotelchuck said. “It felt weird to not have Nick on the ride there.”
But they had to go, for Nick Barton. Dozens of lacrosse players, current and alumni, also felt the obligation to come together and play a game in honor of their friend and teammate.
AACC held a memorial pickup lacrosse game on a mild, blue-sky day Saturday morning to remember Barton’s life. The 21-year-old Crofton native died in a boating accident on West River two weeks ago. He attended AACC for three years after graduating from South River in 2019.
“As a community, as a lacrosse family, we wanted to get everyone out just to kind of heal together,” AACC men’s lacrosse coach Joe Stanilaus said, “and just remember. Because we’re never going to forget about Nick.”
The group of current and former players split into two teams, “White” and “Blue,” but the various numbers on the pinnies were formalities. Every player wore the same number under their jerseys: Barton’s No. 12. People in the stands wore it. Even the field wore it, freshly painted in Riverhawks colors.
“I think this is the best way to do it. This is what he would want. This is what he loved,” Stanilaus said. “You can tell by the turnout, there’s a bunch of players out for him, people in the stands. Everyone’s coming together for him.”
It would be impossible to tell that not everyone was a current AACC player unless you were listening carefully. Team White levied the upper hand against Team Blue for most of the four quarters, even though Blue possessed more Division I commitments, the players noted. It didn’t matter where anyone was attending school at the time, or whether they were attending school at all. They all wore the same shirt.
“That’s the kind of person [Barton] was,” Stanilaus said. “He loved everyone. He wanted everyone to be included and be involved.”
Down 3-0 in the first quarter, Blue started to score when assistant coach Jeremy Ross turned his white pinny inside out to be blue. He wasn’t on the field when his new team netted their first, but he made sure to deliver the second. More players switched sides.
All at once, Barton’s teammates remembered a sound: the signature Nick Barton laugh.
“He had that infectious laugh,” former teammate Trevor Collier said. “The kind of laugh that would make you laugh after.”
The players recalled having to go talk to Barton about matters that weren’t inherently funny. Within moments, they would be.
South River graduate and former AACC teammate Eric Thibodeau added: “You wouldn’t even know what was funny. It didn’t have to be funny. You’d laugh.”
Then, there was Barton’s style. Outside his uniform, Barton’s friends considered him the thrift store king. He wore 1990s style, Thibodeau said. “He was in the wrong generation,” he said, grinning.
“He had that Goodwill touch. Like a magnet,” Barrett said.
The 21-year-old had a deeply kind soul, Kotelchuck said, one he’d only temporarily disguise when a coach asked him to take to his position.
“He was the nicest guy in the world that you wouldn’t see that mean part of him until he got onto the field,” Joseph Threatt, a former teammate, said.
Barton’s teammates remember the ball of fire he’d become. If an opposing player glanced at him wrong, the 5-foot-10 midfielder would pounce like a guard dog. He had that little dog that thinks it’s a big dog mentality, his friends said. When his teammates, especially Barrett, would check with him, Barton would meet their gaze with a wild stare.
“He had a lot of grit. A lot of fire, a lot of passion,” Barrett said. “With everything he did.”
Stanilaus appreciates everything Barton did on the field — 39 goals and nine assists in 29 career games, as well as 49 ground balls. But the thing that captured the coach most about Barton’s will was what he accomplished off the field.
“He made tremendous strides in the classroom,” Stanilaus said. “He had tons of goals, assists … but he made tons of progress in the classroom and we were very proud.”
The last seconds of the memorial game waned with the score at 11-8, White. The players turned to the score table, motioned for a pause in time while attacks scraped at the net. When a player scored, switching White’s lead to 12 goals, everyone on the field cheered. They wanted the score to reflect their friend, one last time, for now.
As the men walked to the bleachers to meet the spectators, the board blinked and changed again. Now, it read 12-12, with a time of 12:12. The team names no longer said “White and “Blue,” but “Nick” and “Barton.”
“It’s been such a great experience to see everybody, even people I played youth lacrosse with, even last year’s team. It’s really good to see everyone,” Barrett said.
“Hopefully, we get this going for years to come.
They plan to call it the “Barton Classic.”