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In the Corner with Coach Atwood: Barry Justus Retires


Every county in North Carolina has someone who is their recognized legend of wrestling and for Rowan County that person is Barry Justus.  Coach Justus is a long-time coach between Erwin Middle School and East Rowan High School with his coaching career beginning back in 1985 after he graduated from Appalachian State University. 


Coach Justus began his coaching career as the assistant coach at Erwin Middle School.  He’d remain there 4 seasons before leaving to become the head coach at East Rowan High School where he’d remain until 2004.  From this point, things get a little ping-pong like. 


Coach Justus would actually have three stints as the head coach at East Rowan.   The dates of those terms of service were 1989-2004, 2005-16, and 2021-22.  In 2004, Coach Justus would return as head coach to Erwin for one season before heading back to East Rowan. where he’d remain until 2016.  From 2016-21 he would serve as the assistant coach at ERHS before resuming the head coaching position for the 2021-22 season. 


The 2021-22 season would be his last as a head coach, but Coach Justus remains in coaching as an assistant coach at both Erwin and East Rowan.  Based on the 60 wrestlers at Erwin last season he probably isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Coach Justus stated that having that many wrestlers on a middle school team was “controlled chaos.”


As a head coach, his win-loss record was 406-192-2.  For you newbies out there, back in the day ties were a part of wrestling in both duals and individual matches.  That’s what that number 2 represents in that career win-loss record (should be stated as win-loss-ties record). 


Here are some more impressive coaching stats.  During his career he had the following:


51 state placers that include the following:

10 state champions

15 state tournament runners-ups (aka 2nd place)

10 state tournament consolation bracket champions (aka 3rd place) 

7 state tournament 4th placers

7 state tournament 5th placers

2 state tournament 6th placers

Team honors that include the following:


6 Rowan County Team Champions

6 Conference Team Titles

5 Conference Tournament Team Titles

1997 3A Midwest Regional Runners-up

2015 Dual Team Runners-ups


Coaching honors include the following:


1997 3A NC Coach of YEAR

SPC/NPC Conference Coach of the Year (several times)

2014-2015 Ralph Shatterly Coach of Year

2022 inducted in North Carolina Chapter of National Wrestling Hall of Fame


In addition to coaching wrestling, Coach Justus also coached football and track (at both schools).  He coached numerous years in both sports, but in track he has coached every year from 1985-2023 except 1.  He’s also moved around a little in track having coached at West Rowan as head coach in 2022, and then as assistant coach at South Rowan in 2023.  He plans to return to South Rowan next season. 


As a teacher, Coach Justus retired in 2016 after serving as a Special Education Teacher for 32 years (split between Erwin MS for 19 years and ERHS for 13 years).  Despite that, he has remained steadfastly involved with the athletic programs at Erwin, East Rowan, and now West Rowan and South Rowan.  He also currently works as a substitute teacher in the Rowan-Salisbury School System and he is a part-time maintenance employee at Dan Nickolas Park in Salisbury.


Regarding his coaching career, Coach Justus stated “Sometimes little victories are more special than bigger ones because nobody knows how hard these kids work to accomplish and those kids are who I strive for trying to help them find that spark.” 


Coach Justus is married to Frances DeArmon, who herself is a retired kindergarten teacher (and fellow ASU graduate).  They have two kids, Annie and Jackson.  Annie, who is another ASU graduate is an avid animal lover as exemplified by her employment in a veterinarian office (Animal Care of Salisbury) while Jackson attended Lenoir-Rhyne where he played baseball and is now in the landscaping business. 


Perhaps the heaviest impact any wrestling coach can have are the former wrestlers who return to the sport to coach themselves.  Coach Justus certainly has his fair share of those who wear the whistle and conduct after practice weigh-ins every day.  The following are former East Rowan wrestlers he coached who are now involved in coaching:


Tim Pittman- RJ Reynolds

Ryan Bean- Olympic

John Brown- West Rowan

Shane Miller- East Rowan

Nick Cornacchione- East Rowan

Jake Kittrell- Patton High

Garry Eller- Mooresville

Michael McGee- North Stanly High

Danny Misenheimer- West Rowan

Here are quotes from three of those listed regarding Coach Justus:

Ryan Bean- Olympic High School Head Wrestling Coach


“Coach Justus has probably had a larger influence on my life than any other man or human save my wife and parents. His guidance and mentorship played an integral role in developing the man I am today. The most telling fact that shows how influential Barry has been to his wrestlers is the number of them who became coaches themselves. They are head and assistant coaches as well as coaches at clubs all over the state. I have tried to make it known many times but I don’t think he will ever know how much he has meant to me through the years.”


John Brown- West Rowan High School Head Wrestling Coach


“Coach Justus is a great coach, man, husband, and father. He was a great mentor that really cared about kids. He was a father figure to so many kids, and instilled discipline and life lessons to so many.  He would always check on kids to make sure they were doing ok. I’m 47 years old and he still calls and checks to see how I’m doing. The one quality he had above all else was integrity.  He always did things the right way even though it may have costed him some losses as a wrestling coach. He wouldn’t let someone wrestle if they weren’t doing right.  It was a real privilege to wrestle for him and even now to compete coaching against him. Thank you coach for everything you did for me, I love you man.”


Tim Pittman- RJ Reynolds Head Wrestling Coach (former head coach at North Rowan and Salisbury)


“Coach Justus is a man who has always emphasized the importance of his wrestlers being good people.  He holds his wrestlers to a high moral standard and puts doing the right thing above winning, no matter the circumstance.  He cares about his wrestlers long after they are no longer competing for him and is always there for them for anything they need.”


By those testimonials it’s clear that Barry Justus helped those three fine men find their spark.  Congratulations Coach Justus on an outstanding career and we all thank you for the service you brought to wrestling.  We’ll see you around for sure since you’re continuing as an assistant.  Rowan County and the schools you’ve served were/are lucky to have you. 

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