The ShoreLine: Honoring Barry “Growch” Auerbacher
SSN contributor Tim "Nep84" McCollum remembers good friend and fellow diehard Neptune boys basketball fan Barry Auerbacher, a former employee at Neptune High School, who passed away at 63 years old on July 2.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been anonymous on the NJ.com forums, especially since I’ve started writing the ShoreLine blog. It’s always amazed me how far-reaching these things are until I started to meet the people in person who you post with. More amazing still is how many people read the stuff and don’t post.
Through the years I’ve met so many folks. They’ve all been so nice to me.
None have been nicer than Barry Auerbacher, who posted under the name "growch." What started as anonymous postings between two random Internet people with similar interests became a friendship forged from a common bond…Neptune Flier Ball. I can’t think of very many occasions where I’ve watched a Neptune game over the past several years without Barry right there with me.
When he couldn’t make a game, I’d text him with updates. When I couldn’t make a game, he would call and scream updates through the phone. He was so text-challenged. It was so much fun to watch the ball game with him because he was so into it. He was into the kids as much as he was into the game because he considered them “his kids." Every time a call would go against Neptune, he’d carry on and then turn to look at me, and nine times out of 10 I’d nod in agreement with the ref and say, 'Yeah, he did it.' This always got an expletive out of him and a fired-up smile.
In the entire time I knew him, he talked mostly about two things: his family and basketball. He got very close to the kids while working at the high school as a custodian, and that carried on to the stands as he watched with great pride. The only time he sparkled with pride any more was when he’d update me on the goings-on with his own three kids. He sincerely rooted for all of “his kids.''
There were three games that particularly irked him out of all of the games we saw together.
1. Point Boro’s upset of Neptune in the state tournament in 2004.
Neptune was a very high seed and Boro was the gritty underdog. Even before that game, he always referred to that Neptune team as “the knucklehead team.'' He expected more from them. We all did. But walking out of the "skybox,'' which was growch-ese for where we’d sit in the stands, and through the "Flierdome," in the midst of the pandemonium, he gave Boro their props. Their sheer will impressed him.
2. Raritan’s regular-season win over Neptune at home.
I think I missed one game that year, and this was it. This was the great Raritan team with Marques Johnson, Mike Nunes, and Qa'rraan Calhoun at the height of their rivalry with the Fliers (maybe even the year we lost to them in the SCT finals in 2004) and at the height of the popularity of the NJ.com forum.
I made a church commitment long before to help bring some kids to a youth retreat, and I couldn’t be on my phone during the game. When I finally turned it on I had a series of voicemails that started with anticipation, reached a climactic euphoria when Neptune jumped out to a 19-2 lead, then culminated with shock when Raritan came back to win the game. He never stopped talking about that game.
3. Neptune winning the state championship while he was out at Bucknell in 2009.
As happy as he was to hear that Monmouth Regional star Joe Willman had committed to going out to Bucknell (at least I get a little Shore Conference basketball), he hated missing that championship run. I remember following the bus home, and as the parade started I rolled down the windows and gave him a call. I put the speaker on and let him soak it all in. After a few minutes I got on the phone and said “Whadya think?” After a long, and I mean LONG, pause I got a crackled voice saying “Wow...thanks.''
That was the same stunned silence that I felt when I got the call about Barry. I didn’t know what to do or how to react. After I composed myself a little I called back.
I can think of no better way to honor you my friend than to honor you here and to introduce my “all-Growch team” comprised of Barry’s Neptune favorites over the years. Almost all of these were “the nicest kids you’d ever want to meet” in his eyes. He had a way of finding the kids he respected as people first, and then rooted for them even harder.
Ikie Calderon: Barry didn’t go the games so much to see basketball but to see “Flier Ball." I wish I had a nickel for every time I heard or read that term. To Barry, “Flier Ball” was intense defensive pressure, turnovers, getting out the break, and making great things happen. In other words, what Ikie did for four championship years. (Note: Calderon is now a junior defensive back on the football team at Eastern Michigan)
Jaheem Woods: There were two things that impressed Barry the most about Jaheem. There was one time Jaheem jumped flat-footed and made a two-hand dunk. Any time anyone showed athleticism on the floor he mentioned that dunk. The second was how he dealt with the tragic death of good friend Naisere Nelson, a Neptune student who drowned in Bradley Beach in 2011 and became the inspiration for the Fliers' championship football season that year. He was so impressed with how Jaheem handled himself. (Note: Woods is now a redshirt junior defensive back at Stony Brook).
“Slick” Nick Williams: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him root any harder for a kid. To apply context, Nick worked his butt off and moved himself from garbage time to big minutes and regularly in the rotation.
Gary “Trashman” Foster: Another one of his favorites. Gary was never flashy. He never said too much. The only think he did was silently take the floor and outwork you, outplay you, and rip your heart out. He loved Gary’s knack for getting to the glass and all those putbacks in traffic. (Note: Foster went on to play at Rowan University)
Dan “Deuce” Singleton: Of all the players we’ve seen he might have been the most improved from beginning to end. Barry was on the bandwagon early and stayed there to the end. (Note: Singleton wrapped up his career at Montclair State in 2014)
Keith “Plasticman” Kirkwood: Barry would call him "Plasticman" because it seemed like those arms could reach forever when he would steal the ball or get a rebound or glide to the hoop. I can remember the phone call like it was yesterday. Barry called me from a scrimmage and was like “I’ve seen the next great Neptune player. Remember the name Keith Kirkwood.'' He was gushing. He was also right. (Note: Kirkwood is now a sophomore wide receiver at Temple University).
There were others like “K-Boogie” and “Stringbean” and “Jumping Jack Jenkins” but none had more reverence that Tom “the best shooter I’ve ever seen” White, the former Wall legend who is now an assistant at Neptune. Any time a conversation turned into the past tense, he’d talk about Tommy and those Wall teams he saw as a kid in the 1970s.
I think every time I see White's name on Wall’s 1,000-point club banner, I’ll think of those stories. I know I’ll never walk into another gym without wishing you were there with me ever again. To everyone who made an impression on him. To everyone who he made an impression upon, I say thank you. Cherish every minute.
Enjoy the summer folks.