The Barsh Family
Denise (Dillingham) Barsh never feared one bit having a large family on her own. Growing up, she had 11 siblings, including eight brothers. So when close friends would razz her about having seven splashy, athletic, tough-minded sons over a 16-year span, her comeback response was divine. “It was a God thing,” she said, with laughter in her voice. “I kept telling people, they will make out a positive role in society.” As athletes, the Barsh boys - Joshual, RJay, Isaiah, Caleb, Joseph, Isaac and Josiah - could easily fill out an NBA starting five, or half an NFL offense. As people, they have developed into diverse community leaders, especially in the coaching profession. “Everything in our family was about synergy, and bringing everyone together to find that common ground,” Isaac said. “That often meant making decisions of sacrifice in support of the whole team.” Israel Prince Barsh is the patriarch. He grew up in Georgia, and was a senior starting forward on LaGrange High School’s 1977 state boys basketball championship team. He also played football. Israel spent a decade in the U.S. Army, and was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord when he first met Denise, a former dance-team standout and 1973 Wilson High School graduate, at New Jerusalem Church of God in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. They immediately hit if off. And after a few short months, they went from dating to married. Since Israel was on the fast track to becoming a church pastor, the couple moved to Pullman so he could finish up an undergraduate degree in sociology at Washington State University. There, he met standout WSU guard Aaron Haskins, a Mount Tahoma High School graduate who led the Cougars to a pair of NCAA Division I men’s tournament berths. By the time Israel and Denise arrived at the college in 1985, Haskins was past his playing days, instead serving as a WSU admissions counselor and minority recruiter. Israel teamed up with Haskins as mentors for football and basketball players. Israel’s young sons, Josh, RJay, Isaiah and Caleb, would often accompany him at on-campus activities. “We were always in the gym, and went to a bunch of games,” RJay said. “We still have pictures of us in our WSU gear.” Israel graduated from Bishop Hardy Seminary School in 1992, and was ordained as a Christian international bishop. As his family grew, Isaiah and Denise set down rigid guidelines for their sons’ upbringing. “For my boys, it was about two things - the Bible and the ball,” Israel said. Being a pastor, Israel emphasized life principles with his sons, mainly discipline and hard work. He constantly stressed concentrating on academics. Denise always spoke to teamwork and character, and was the one who constantly offered positive encouragement, especially amid tough times. “One brother represents all of us,” RJay said. “We needed to protect our name.” That name began cropping up all over town in youth and AAU basketball circles. And when the organized games were finished, the brotherly court wars - whether they were held in the driveway of Northwest Academy of Excellence (founded by Israel) in Tacoma, or in the neighborhood cul de sac in Puyallup - continued. “I put a (basketball) goal outside, and they went crazy,” Israel said. “It was like, ‘Man, you could not park a car near them.” As the oldest, Josh was the one who really set a competitive tone. He was fierce and firm, but fair. “It was physical, and we got after it,” RJay said. “But with a few little brothers, Josh would always play with a handicap, like playing a game all left-handed, or just shooting jumpers. He wanted you to do OK.” On the court, Josh was everything a coach could want. He put the team first. He was defensive-oriented. And he did the little things to help win games. The all-SPSL South guard from Puyallup High School eventually led Tacoma CC to the NWAC men’s title in 2002, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. After that, he went on to start two seasons at Montana State in Bozeman. Off the court, Josh never shied away from a teaching moment with any of his younger brothers. He was, by all accounts, the exemplary role model. “Josh led by example. He walked the walk,” said John Wetterauer, the former boys basketball coach at Puyallup High School. “And he was the glue. … His hard work and dedication is what they saw, and how much to put into it to get something out of it.” Josh’s playing success certainly carried down. All six of his younger brothers played at least one varsity sport in high school. All of them won league titles. And only one of them - Joseph - did not play sports in college. Two years behind Josh, RJay won an SPSL South title at Puyallup in 1991, and joined his brother to help Tacoma CC win the NWAC crown. He went on to play two more seasons at the University of Puget Sound. Isaiah, a 2004 Puyallup graduate, opted to play football. He was a three-time, all-SPSL South performer, and was twice picked as an all-state linebacker. And while at Pima Junior College, he was a first-team JUCO All-American in 2004, and ended up at his father’s alma mater - WSU. He later had a couple of NFL tryouts, including one with the Seattle Seahawks. If there was ever a peacemaker in the family, it was Caleb, who was the family’s first multiple-sport standout. He was part Puyallup’s SPSL South championship teams in basketball (2005) and football (2005-06), and went on to Western Oregon University as a defensive back. Much like Caleb, Joseph was more of a cerebral multi-sport athlete, except he played football and basketball at Bellarmine Prep before going off to Gonzaga University to pursue an undergraduate degree in sports management. And the two youngest siblings, Isaac and Josiah, were part of Lincoln’s longstanding run atop the Narrows League boys basketball standings. Isaac was the do-everything undersized post player while Josiah - the only left-hander in the family - flashed more scoring skill than any of his brothers, capturing co-league MVP honors in 2015. Both Isaac and Josiah also were part of something unique, too - playing college basketball for RJay, who is currently the head coach at NAIA’s Southeastern University in Florida. Josiah will be a senior on the team in 2018-19. “One of my favorite moments was that I got to call my mom to tell her I offered my youngest brothers a scholarship,” RJay said. And now, the oldest five Barsh brothers are either coaching or have been involved in athletic development. RJay is the most accomplished coach, having been part been part of conference championships at every level, from high school (Lincoln was Narrows League champion in 2009), to junior college (Tacoma CC won four consecutive NWAC West titles from 2009-2012; NWAC title in 2012) as an assistant coach, to a four-year university as Southeastern’s coach (Sun Conference champions last season; NAIA final four team in 2014). After years as an assistant at Life Christian Academy and UPS, Josh was named the new varsity boys basketball coach at Foss High School last spring. Joseph is currently an assistant boys basketball coach at Williston High School in North Dakota. After his dreams of playing in the NFL were over, Isaiah coached in the Independent Youth Football League (IYFL) from 2011-13, and is now a personal trainer. Caleb is an athletic trainer, focusing on mental-skills development. There seems to be a long-lasting motto for this remarkable set of brothers: Play hard and always give back to whatever team you are a part of. Just like mom predicted.