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Quentin Batalillon

General News 2024

Lake Wales’ Chad Barnhardt is entering the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame

LAKE WALES – Chad Barnhardt certainly has a long list of athletic achievements from his youth, high school and college days. It is not easy for him to choose one that stands out above the others.

“Oh god, that’s hard,” he said. “I really don’t know which one I would choose. The most recent would obviously be when I started playing football at USF, but my days as a Highlander are certainly part of that.

Barnhardt, who will be inducted into the Polk County Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday, was a baseball and football standout in Lake Wales. He was part of the first local Little League All-Star baseball team to qualify for the state tournament and finish third.

  • He was an All-State catcher who helped lead Lake Wales to a state championship in 1993, the last Polk County public school to win a state title.
  • He was an All-State quarterback for the football team and led the Highlanders to a state runner-up finish in 1993, throwing for 275 yards in the championship game, which at the time ranked third in title game history.
  • High school baseball teams went 56-11 over the past two seasons, including 28-3 his senior year when the national Highlanders fell a game short in the state tournament, which was the biggest disappointment of his career. In football, he led Lake Wales to a 24-2 record in two seasons.
  • After high school, Barnhardt was selected in the eighth round of the 1994 MLB draft by the Boston Red Sox. At the time, only four players had been drafted higher in Polk County history, including teammate Cleatus Davidson, who was drafted in the second round that year. The others were Gregory Dees of Auburndale (4th round in ’79), Pat Borders of Lake Wales (6th in ’82), Kevin Bryant of Winter Haven (7th in ’68).

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Barnhardt grew up as a baseball player and played only one year of youth football. But after playing rookie league baseball in ’94, Barnhardt opted for a college football career.

“It was the right decision at the right time and I’m fortunate to have all those opportunities to do those things,” Barnhardt said. “I just don’t think the lifestyle was the right choice for me at that time in my life. I didn’t really like the minor leagues. I missed football and just want to get back into that environment.”

Barnhardt played two years in the SEC for South Carolina before transferring to South Florida, where he was the school’s first starting quarterback and still ranks fifth all-time in passing yards despite only playing two seasons played.

Although Barnhardt did not stay in baseball, draft day was memorable.

“That was a sensation,” he said. “It was also graduation day. I remember trying to keep myself busy and ended up going to YMC A to train with Lance Wilson. I got home and my mom was on the phone with (MLB baseball scout) Luke Wrenn saying I was picked in the eighth round. I’ll never forget my brother (Brett) coming home and wearing work clothes and making a pop-up slide in the front yard. He was quite excited too. So that was a fun day.”

Barnhardt is one of the top 10 quarterbacks in Polk County high school history, even if his career doesn’t rank high in passing yards. In his junior season, coach Rod Shafer Barnhardt started most games in the first half and played in the second half against Jonathan Rockness, who himself was one of the top five or six quarterbacks in the county at the time.

During his senior season, Barnhardt only passed for just over 800 yards in the regular season as the Highlanders, who ran the spring, had a productive running game and often won in blowouts where there wasn’t much opportunity to pass.

Although Barnhardt was a classic drop-back quarterback, he was effective at running the spring; On one occasion he had made it 30 yards downfield when the play was declared dead, as his fake handoff during the dive fooled even the referees, who did not see him holding the ball.

However, in the five playoff games of his senior year, Barnhardt threw for 1,000 yards. and pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in Polk County playoff history, a victory over Glades Central in the state semifinals.

Lake Wales trailed 35-14 and rallied to win. Glades Central had 11 Division I players, including future NFL players Fred Taylor and Reidel Anthony. It was a game Anthony never forgot because two years later, when South Carolina played Florida, Anthony commented on the game against Barnhardt when they met on the field after the game.

Barnhardt said that game and a win over Tallahassee Leon in the baseball state championship are probably his two biggest moments in the sport.

After his athletic career, Barnhardt spent a few seasons as baseball coach at Lake Wales and as offensive coordinator under Shafer at Webber International University before giving up coaching and going into banking.

Barnhardt married the former April Caraway, who was a standout volleyball and softball player at Lake Wales and set single-season and career RBI records at Ole Miss. He said he doesn’t expect to get back into coaching other than working with his 13-year-old daughter, who excels in softball.

Barnhardt is one of six who will be inducted during Tuesday night’s festivities.

“I was very excited about it, very humbled,” he said. “There are some really good people there, so I’m honored to be a part of it.”