Most Interesting People 2014: Don Barton

Don Barton


Why he's interesting: The longtime Bay Village resident created Bee Bouncers, a program that fosters brain development, self-esteem and confidence by teaching boys and girls in kindergarten through third grade coordinated movements and basketball routines similar to those performed by the Harlem Globetrotters. Over the last four decades, hundreds of Bee Bouncers have participated in pregame and halftime performances at high school, college and Cleveland Cavaliers games.

Hoop dreams: During his first year of teaching physical education at Normandy Elementary School in Bay Village, Barton developed exercises that combined square-dancing moves with dribbling. "I always wanted children to enjoy dance and also the sport of basketball. I thought to myself, How do you put this together? As usual, I thought of something when I woke up in the middle of the night." Those exercises inspired practice at lunchtime and recess, then an after-school program where kids learned to synchronize dribbling with current pop and rock songs.

Tip-off: Twenty-four Bee Bouncers performed at halftime during a Cavs game at the Cleveland Arena in the mid-1970s, an appearance Barton arranged by making a cold call to the team's offices. "We were probably the only halftime show they ever did those first few years."

His game plan: Parents marvel that one man in his 70s can keep up to 40 children in line during a Bee Bouncers session. The number can swell to 150 for the group's annual Cavs game performance. His secret is simple: Keep 'em busy. "Too much freedom in a learning situation creates some problems."

Voice coach: After years of calling out to charges over loud music in cavernous gyms, Barton's voice is always hoarse. "I haven't learned to speak using my diaphragm." And he doesn't like using a whistle. "It's shocking. In Vietnam, I was in the military police. I remember blowing it all the time."

No child left behind: Barton insists that Bee Bouncers do two shows at basketball games: a pregame performance by younger or less-experienced children who haven't mastered two-ball tricks and a halftime showcase of older, slicker ball-handlers. Everyone participates. "That's why I never coached high school sports — I never want to cut kids."

Home team: Kids have come from as far as Vermilion to participate in the two Bee Bouncers sessions Barton conducts every afternoon at Normandy Elementary School. "Last year every boy on the court for the Bay Village [varsity] basketball team was a former Bee Bouncer." A few Bee Bouncers, he adds, have gone on to college careers.

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