Former Manhasset Star Neil Barber to Be Honored

Our Kids in Action to honor Barber at New York Islanders game on April 2

Exceptional moments can unfold at reunions. Sometimes even miracles happen. At a reunion in 2009, when coach Bob Rule asked Greg Barber about his son Neil Barber, a former lacrosse star at Manhasset High School, both Greg and Rule had no idea the wonderful road they would embark upon in honor of Neil.

Neil was a typical teenager playing sports and attending high school. He loved to go to the beach, swim, and dance; he had an active social life. However, Neil began to experience mental problems starting in his junior year at Manhasset. Neil went from being a popular, outgoing teenager during his sophomore year to a recluse who sat alone in the corner of the school cafeteria. Neil's father shrugged it off to teenage angst.

Unbeknownst to the family, these were all classic symptoms of the beginning stages of schizophrenia. His family believed that Neil was suffering with depression, so he was treated for that during his last years in high school. Neil also began struggling with both his basketball and lacrosse play. His coaches noticed that he was having trouble following instructions and that his behavior was changing, but they were not able to pinpoint the source of the issues. If Neil's father had the opportunity to speak to those coaches today, he would advise them to examine Neil's new behavior more closely to see if there was a problem and not assume that Neil was giving his coaches a hard time (true of many neurological disorders, including epilepsy in children they have starring spells, and teachers often say they are ignoring them).

Today, Greg wants to educate and bring awareness to students and their parents about the early signs of mental illness. His vision is that the public should be informed of these early indicators of mental illness so families will be able to talk openly and comfortably about their experiences. Greg has first-hand experience in dealing with the many hidden layers of the emergence of mental illness and is passionate about advising coaches and parents. He believes mental illness needs to be discussed in the same forum as drug addiction and alcoholism.

Neil's story is compelling. He had received a lacrosse scholarship to Canterbury Prep School for his post-graduate year and was heavily recruited for college, choosing to attend Gettysburg College. However, Neil was diagnosed with schizophrenia and unfortunately had to drop out of college shortly after his freshman year began in 1992.

For the last 10 years, Neil has been in a mental hospital on Long Island, and his four main visitors have been his mother, father, brother, and godmother. Neil was just going through the motions of living his life at Pilgrim State Mental Hospital until a lacrosse reunion for Manhasset graduates of the classes of 1964 and 1965 occurred in October of 2009. That reunion changed Neil's life. So did life for Neil's father and Coach Rule.

Rule was a goalie on the Cornell University 1971 championship team and later an extremely successful coach at Manhasset High School. Rule retired from lacrosse coaching last year, after Manhasset won the state championship. At the reunion, Rule found out that Neil was in the hospital and asked Greg if he pay Neil a visit.

On what would prove to be a fateful visit, Rule emphatically told Neil that he was a respected member of the lacrosse community. Rule told Neil that he would not be forgotten, and he got Neil's permission to talk about his courageous journey in battling mental illness.

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