HM Alumnus Brendan Barile '06 Finds 'Luck of the Irish' on Eire's Basketball Courts
Posted 03/19/2013 11:06PM

A job doing something you love, that includes the chance to make great new friends, travel to new countries, learn a lot, and do some good while you’re at it: It doesn’t get much better than that.

Call it the “Luck of the Irish” – with a lot of hard work. Together, they’ve landed Horace Mann School alumnus Brendan Barile ’06 in a dream job this year—coaching and playing basketball in Ireland. And, while being far from home may add the drawback of missing family, Brendan is five for five this St. Patrick’s Day week: His mother and siblings are in Ireland to visit, and to add some American accents to his cheering section for a few games, of course. Not to worry. Brendan’s dad, veteran Horace Mann School coach Ray Barile, made it to Ireland for a short visit late last fall, between HM’s fall and winter sports seasons. But, at this time of year, spring break for everyone else means pre-season prep for HM’s coaches and athletes.

Still, Coach Barile will get to follow the family reunion, as long as the visiting, touring and playing basketball allows his son time to update his blog with all his latest news. So far, the news is great. The Division One Irish National League Galway Titans, for which Brendan plays guard, won its semi-final playoff game the night of March 16, 99-97 in overtime in a thrilling contest, with mother, Gael, and brother, Colin, in the stands.

“Now we advance to the finals on March 23 in Dublin at the National Basketball Arena, hopefully to finish off a great year with a championship,” wrote Brendan, with his heart still pounding after the exciting game. Hopefully, sister Catie Barile ’09, will get to witness some play-off action when she arrives from Ireland later in the week during her spring break from Georgetown University. The Barile family couldn’t have picked a better time for their reunion. Along with getting to see her son play in Ireland, Gael Barile’s visit coincided with her birthday—which just happens to fall on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17.

A family tradition

But, all of this is getting ahead of the story. Track back to 1982, when Ray Barile graduated from Manhattan College with a degree in physical education, which he pursued out of a love for both athletics and teaching, and then made his way over to Horace Mann School. Coaching baseball at first, in his second year at HM he began coaching freshman basketball, and eventually moved to the varsity coaching level. In 2008, he stepped away from his 24-year HM basketball coaching position—15 of them as varsity head coach. During those years he built a winning record, captured Ivy League and NYSAIS titles, and saw a lot of HMers through the dramatic ups and downs of high school hoops.

As associate director of athletics at HM Ray Barile is still coaching, notably now as head coach for girls varsity softball. He’s still also deeply involved with basketball. Most significantly, he brought a national college basketball tradition of fundraising for cancer research in the NCAA’s Coaches vs. Cancer initiative to the high school level. Organizing Coaches vs. Cancer tournaments for HM and a handful of schools in 1999, he has helped grow the tournament into a two-day event which, this year, featured 14 boys and girls teams in competition. From the $2,700 the event raised its first year, the tournament has since brought in over $400,000 for cancer research. Coach Barile’s effort was recognized by the American Cancer Society when it honored him with its Distinguished Service Award in 2006, in a ceremony on the hallowed basketball ground of Madison Square Garden.

But most rewarding for Ray Barile was the family he built along the way, through his marriage to active HM parent Gael Barile, a third-grade teacher at Elizabeth Morrow School, and three kids—Brendan ’06 and Catie ’09, and 19-year-old Colin. Brendan and Catie both played varsity basketball at HM. Colin is a huge sports enthusiast who plays recreational basketball, and a great shooter, brother Brendan said, adding, “I guess it’s in the blood.” Catie, now a senior at Georgetown, still plays basketball at the college Club level. Brendan went on from Horace Mann to play Division III basketball at Stevens Tech, and then at City College of New York for two years, where he was a team captain, before graduating CCNY with a BA in political science.

In August of 2012 Brendan Barile moved to Ireland to become a player-coach. “I am a coach in residence in Sligo where I coach for the Sligo All-Stars Basketball Club and I am a player (and coach) in residence in Galway with the Galway Titans Basketball Club,” said Brendan. “It's really been an incredible year, living in a new country, experiencing a different culture, getting to know great people, making lifelong friends, and, of course, continuing to be involved in basketball—which I thought was over when I graduated from college.”

“They’re playing basketball… ” in Ireland

For someone who has spent an entire young lifetime playing backyard hoops, playing on summer teams and at basketball camps, high school varsity and college basketball teams, and cheering at NBA games in New York City, the next question has to be: “is basketball big in Ireland?”—a country whose citizens are known to be passionate about Gaelic football, as they are about a lot of things.

“Well.... the first answer is no, it’s not big, but that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Brendan reported. “Basketball might be classified as Ireland’s fifth biggest sport if we are being generous—after Gaelic football, hurling, rugby, and soccer. But, for the people who are into it, they are extremely passionate. So it is huge for the people I am involved with on a daily basis. The country as a whole might not be there yet, but it’s growing, and fast.

“It's also set up differently,” he explained. “Clubs are more important than schools and the clubs encompass every age group. So for the club that I play for, the Galway Titans, I coach from under 8-year-olds all the way through under 20's. You then have the National League senior team at the semi-pro level where I play. And It goes even further with the Masters level, for players over 50. There are many teams in between. So basketball in the club system is a lifetime benefit. You might be surprised to hear that we actually get very good crowds for our games, based on the fact that our team is successful, and we are involved with the club on many levels. We aren't just players. It’s cool to coach a group of kids on a Saturday morning, and see all of them cheering for our team on a Saturday night.”

With the legacy of Michael Jordan and the international superstar status of LeBron (King) James, and with hoop stars from around the world competing against one another in the NBA and the Olympics, basketball has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. Fueled by social media, over 278 million fans in 215 countries viewed the 2012 NBA finals. The sport is even catching on in football-loving Ireland—a plus for one of the country’s newest player-coaches. “The kids love the NBA here. They can’t get enough of it,” said Brendan. “In the states, it’s almost overkill how ubiquitous it is, but in Ireland you have to seek it out. They do, and they love it. It makes you appreciate the game more.”

Fortunate to play, and share his good fortune with others

Still there are long nights, and damp drives Brendan describes vividly in blog posts covering his frequent commutes between Sligo and Galway, particularly through eternally-rainy County Mayo. And there are the towns where basketball hasn’t quite yet caught on, when he plays before handfuls of fans in scarcely-populated gyms. “Not every town or team has the support our team does,” said Brendan. “Madison Square Garden we do not play in. We have our fair share of HM-Collegiate Friday night type atmospheres, but certainly not for every game. But when you love to play, you'll do it anywhere... for now at least. I'm fortunate to be able to do it.”

Brendan Barile’s good fortune—to be able to fulfill a dream of playing professional basketball, wherever that may be—doesn’t end on the roads of Ireland, however. It extends to other countries he’s been able to play and coach in, to the people he plays with, and to those who have welcomed him like a native son. Last fall he traveled to Belfast in Northern Ireland with the country’s Sport Changes Life program, and in January he coached at a basketball camp in Sweden.

Playing for the Galway Titans also provides Brendan with a multi-cultural perspective. “My team, unlike most of the Irish teams, has players from all over the world. Galway the city is a melting pot of nationalities, and our team is a microcosm of the city,” he said. “We have players from Lithuania, Latvia, Ireland, Rwanda, Canada, UK, USA, Spain, and France.” Making friends with players from around the world has been a rewarding experience for Brendan. So, too, has been feeling less the “foreigner” through the welcome he’s received as an “adopted” member of Galway’s Coughlan family—Joe Coughlan, the head of the Titans Basketball Club, his wife Gillian and their three children. “I wouldn’t be here if Joe hadn’t taken me on as a basketball player and coach, and I will be forever grateful,” Brendan said.

If serving others through basketball is a family tradition for the Bariles, it’s a tradition the player coach is carrying on, himself. “I'm involved with young people on daily basis with the coaching, and within the Titans club we often do work with disadvantaged youth. The Titans are all-inclusive and a key element of their existence is to give back within the local community,” Brendan said. His personal mission, he added, is to live the mission of Ireland’s Sport Changes Life initiative that aims to help young people throughout the country who are disadvantaged and at risk “by encouraging and inspiring them through the medium of sport. While I am not affiliated with them, I am living their mission while I am here. And it’s certainly something I believe in. Sports do change lives. I’m trying to be a part of that.”

Family reunion

As comfortable as Brendan Barile has begun to feel in Ireland, and with new friends and new almost family, he said he “cannot wait to see my mom, brother, and sister over the next few weeks. My dad made it over before Christmas and we had a great time. He fell in love with Ireland and the people. I already know my mom will have the same experience.” (Ray Barile also managed to get in some volunteer coaching, and even shoot some three-pointers while he was in Ireland, according to Brendan’s blog).

Visiting their son and brother is the family’s priority during the trip, but Gael Barile was also looking forward to touring and doing some “roots” research. The Bariles have Irish ancestry on both sides of the family – “Garvey on my mom’s and Bohan on my dad’s,” said Brendan. “I haven’t traced these yet. I need to do that. The most I’ve done is drive by a pub in Mayo (where the Garvey side is from) with the name Garvey's.”

Whatever searching Brendan may not have had time for yet may be taken care of during his mother’s visit. “I am so excited to visit Ireland, and see Brendan in his new environment. Ever since I was a child, Ireland has been on my ‘to go to’ list,” said Gael Barile. “Being born on St. Patrick’s Day and being half Irish helped to endear me to the Irish culture. Along with the usual tourist sites, I am looking forward to learning about Ireland from the locals and Brendan's new friends. Unfortunately, I do not have any known family over there. My Garvey/Maloney heritage hailed from County Mayo and I hope to spend time in that part of the country. Brendan has developed a great love for the country and the people, and I am looking forward to experiencing that.”

Added Catie Barile, “I will be traveling to Ireland on March 25th and will overlap with my mom and younger brother for a few days. I am very excited to visit Ireland. I’ve never traveled there before and it will be great to catch up with Brendan, meet his new friends, and learn about his new life. It will also be a great opportunity to travel before graduating and starting work. I have heard wonderful things about the beauty and culture of Ireland and I can’t wait to experience it!”… and Horace Mann

For family and friends of Brendan Barile’s who can’t travel to the player’s new home court to visit the “Titan American,” as he was called after a three-point-buzzer-beater in one recent game, it’s well worth a visit to his blog, Humorously subtitled: “Like Air Jordan. But not. And in Ireland.” the blog offers a funny, richly-flavored take on a young American’s first taste of living in a different country, complete with expectations, realizations, cultural miscues, and lessons learned during the humbling experience of communicating in another language—even if that language is still English, but with a brogue. Splitting his week between Sligo and Galway, and traveling around Ireland for games, Brendan manages to see a lot of the country’s cities, towns and countryside, and features them in pictures and blog posts that are a treasure for any “Irish-ophile” to mine.

There are plenty of references to Horace Mann, throughout the blog, as well – to past games, and even grammatical question shout-outs to, say, “Mr. McCutcheon” for example. Starting the blog was his mother’s idea, Brendan writes, but he has taken on the project with panache, despite the amount of time and work required out of a schedule already packed with coaching, practice, playing, traveling, and building friendships. While Brendan Barile went to Ireland to play ball, as any school athlete or professional player knows, playing is hard work. And, that’s where Horace Mann comes in again, said Brendan, in the preparation for new experiences, and in the hard work.

“I feel deeply indebted to Horace Mann for a multitude of reasons. It's where I grew up. It’s where I learned how to work, how to be challenged and how to persevere,” Brendan said. “The intensity of Horace Mann in the classroom and on the basketball court has been unparalleled since. It’s prepared me for almost anything. Horace Mann is a big part of who I am today. And I take pride in that.”    

That kind of Lions’ Pride calls for a hearty “Slainte!”