JACKSONVILLE — Judging by the numbers and the accolades, Josh Barge is a sports hero.
As a redshirt freshman wide receiver last year for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, he set team rookie records with 58 catches for 885 yards. Those numbers put him at No. 3 on the all-time JSU receiving list and earned him Freshman All-America recognition.
Barge, though, knows a real hero. It’s Cindy Barge, his mother back in Carrollton, Ga., where she and her late husband served as foster parents for more than 200 children. They welcomed four of those into the family through adoption.
In July 2010, before Barge’s junior year at Carrollton High, his father, Anthony Sr., was killed in a motorcycle crash. The elder Barge was a beloved basketball and football coach in Georgia and a stellar athlete. He was inducted into the University of West Georgia Hall of Fame after setting the school’s basketball career scoring record.
On the way to second-team All-America status as a senior, Barge set a Gulf South Conference scoring record by averaging 28.7 points a game. He’s second on the all-time scoring list in the league. He played six years of professional basketball in the Dominican Republic. Later, he completed his education with a degree in recreation administration at Jacksonville State.
“My mom and my dad showed me there’s more to life than just material things,” the 21-year-old Barge said. “They helped plenty of kids out. Even my friends who needed something, my mom kept the door open for them.”
While Mrs. Barge isn’t currently keeping foster children, she’s still a go-to mom in her neighborhood.
“Any time anyone needs a place to stay, she allows them to,” Josh Barge said. “I have friends from high school who sometimes stay at my house because she allows them to. It’s a blessing to have a mom like that.”
Barge grew up with one of his parents always serving as his recreational league coaches. He and his older brother, A.J., were in different leagues, so their parents alternated as coaches. His father was an assistant coach, first at Lithia Springs and then at Carrollton.
“He was blessed enough to get a job at our high school,” Barge said. “He was the in-school suspension teacher, so I really couldn’t get into trouble. Once he got the job at Carrollton, we were together all the time.”
Coach Barge was tough on his athletic children, Barge said.
“If you came to one of our practices, you wouldn’t know he was my dad,” he said. “He stayed on me, he stayed on my brothers. He was going to push us. He knew how far he was going to push us before he was going to ease up — and he really wasn’t going to ease up.
“He knew what type of athletes we were and what we could become. He stayed on us hard. Now that I’m in college, if I get yelled at by a coach, it’s nothing compared to what my dad did. He sat down and taught me valuable lessons. He said don’t listen to how I’m saying it, listen to what I’m saying.”
On that horrible July day when Barge’s dad died of injuries suffered in the motorcycle accident near Wedowee, Josh was playing basketball with friends at his home. His mother called the boys in and asked them to send their friends home.
“She was tearing up, and I could tell there was something going on,” Barge said. “She told us he was in a wreck, and they weren’t letting her know anything about it.
“I went to my room and I just prayed. I was talking to God. When I came back out, my aunt busted through the door and she was crying. That’s when they told us that he had passed away.”
Already a high-school standout in basketball and football, Barge contemplated giving up athletics.
“When it happened, I was done with football. I was done with all sports,” he said. “I was telling myself I needed to get a job and help my mom out. It was my teammates, my coaches from high school and my mom, mainly, who told me ‘You can’t give up.’
“Everything I do is basically for him. When I wake up in the morning, he’s the first thing I think about. Any time I feel like I want to give up, I know that if he were alive he would not let me. It was tragic, but at the same time it’s motivation for me. I am trying to make it for him.”
Barge and his mother stay in close contact, talking almost every day. She didn’t miss a JSU game last season, including the long playoff trips to McNeese State and Eastern Washington.
“I tell her every day that I love her,” Barge said. “If I were to lose her, I don’t know what would happen. I thank God every day that I have her. She’s an awesome mom.”
Barge said he inherited his athletic ability from his dad, who once scored 55 points in a high school game in the days before the 3-point line. But, what he inherited from his mother is just as important.
“When it comes to athletic ability, stepping up and making plays and not giving up, I take after my dad,” he said. “As far as being strong and never quitting, I have to give that to my mom. She is one of the strongest women I know.
“I’ve never seen a woman who lost her husband of 18 years and that same day be able to handle all her children and comfort us and let us know everything’s going to be OK. That really touched my heart and made me realize I had to grow up and help her out because she’s not going to be able to do it alone.”
Barge’s brothers told him that their mom “goes crazy” when he makes a play for the Gamecocks.
“She’s always calm and collected when I look up there,” he said. “It’s amazing. There’s never a down moment in public, although I have gone in her room at night and seen her crying. In public, she’s the strongest person I know.”