Barkley steps aside after four seasons in leading boys’ soccer at Urbana | Sports

Urbana – James Barclay has little trouble finding someone to tell him how he’s influenced Urbana’s boys’ soccer program over the past four seasons.

“My son likes to remind me of how all the guys have carried me to success, and what I have to say to him is, ‘Of course they did,’” Barkley said with a laugh….This is the way it’s supposed to be.

While Noah Barclay, a 2022 University of Urbana graduate student, may enjoy laughing at his father’s expense, there is no disregard for what Urbana has achieved with James Barclay in the lead.

Barkley stepped down as the Tigers coach after a fruitful streak that included 47 wins, as well as Class 2A and Divisional titles last fall.

Urbana finished one win short of qualifying for the 2A State Championships during her final season, finishing with a 19-1-2 record last fall. This earned him the Barclay News-Gazette First ARIA Football Coach of the Year Medal.

Mikulaj Kowalski succeeds Barkley as Tigers coach. Kowalski, whose appointment was approved by the school board earlier this month, is also the girls’ soccer coach at Urbana.

“Lots of success. It was a great experience,” Barkley said on Friday. “One I will always cherish. … It has spoiled in many respects, with utilities and students. It is my mother school. People are wonderful. So I have nothing but fond memories of my time as head coach.”

Barkley became the second coach in boys football history from the Tigers when Randy Blackman – who coached Barkley in the 1990s – retired after the 2017 campaign. Barkley’s rise coincided with the entry of Noah Urbana as a freshman in 2018.

“They didn’t have anyone working in the building who was really able to take over the program, so it seemed like a good time for me to step in,” said Barclay, who works out of the area. “The plan was basically a four-year mission with the idea that we could find someone during that time to take the program into the future from there — preferably someone who works in the building.”

Kowalski’s first season taking out the Tigers girls’ soccer team came in the spring of 2022. The team finished out by scoring 4-10-2.

Barkley said he plans to serve as an assistant coach under Kowalski on the girls’ side. Barkley’s daughter, Celia, is a young athlete on this programme.

“Mickey has a background in football. He played at a high level competitively, and he was my (boys) assistant last year,” said James Barkley. “He is really fit and is a young physical education teacher in high school. So far, everything is fine.”

Barkley’s final season overseeing the Urbana boys’ soccer team followed six of his athletes — including Noah — signed with college programs to continue their careers. Tigers bragged to 10 seniors during the 2021 fall season.

“It’s just been a great season,” James Barkley said. “An amazing few seasons of success and just the right culture.”

Besides watching his son play in general, Barkley cites among his favorite memories while training the Tigers. One of them was 2022 graduate Chico Wilson who scored the equalizer with less than a minute left on the roster against Champaign Central last fall, ahead of the marathon penalty shootout session that ended with Urbana winning 11-10.

“People forgot about it after all the hype, but it was exciting,” Barclay said.

Another was Noah who fired a shot from about 30 yards during the 2019 game at Rantoul and created a bewildering situation.

“(The ball) shrieked through the Rantoul net, and they didn’t count it because the referees couldn’t see it,” James Barkley said. “The net had a little space under the bar. He blew it through that space so hard, he only tore the net a little bit. And the ball didn’t slow down at all. … It’s one of the hardest shots I’ve seen live.”

Barkley does not close the door to return to the main training road. Perhaps that’s good news for another group of young athletes for the coach who has helped keep the reputation of boys’ soccer at Urbana intact.

“I’d never say never because I’ve always been training since I was a little kid,” Barkley said. “I am sure I will train again at some point, in some capacity. Especially at some point if I am very lucky and have to retire healthy, I will have some extra time.”

Colin Likas is the prep coordinator at The News-Gazette. He can be contacted at or on Twitter at clikasNG.

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