At first glance, 2022 might seem like just an ordinary year. But here in College Station – in Texas A&M University territory – this year marked 100 Years of the 12th Man.
Originating with E. King Gill’s symbolic suit-up for the Aggies on January 2, 1922, fans have personally felt partially responsible for every A&M victory. And with last October’s triumph over Alabama, it’s no wonder that Aggies continue to beam with team spirit over their team’s long legacy of domination on the field.
“At A&M, our fans have always – even now – played a factor in all those great games at Kyle Field. That’s just the truth. And it all started with E. King Gill,” said Jacob Green, the 12th Man Foundation’s Vice President of Principal Gifts.
David Gardner’s Jewelers is proud to call College Station home. Rooted in Aggieland, David Gardner ’78 and the DG team feel a special affinity for the 12th Man and are proud to celebrate this event’s centennial anniversary. But for one member of the David Gardner’s Jewelers family, Store Manager Nathan Barrett ’11, the roar of the 12th Man is directly linked to his family’s history.
James Barrett and the 12th Man Kickoff Team
Nathan’s late father, James Barrett, class of ’85, was a member of the original 1983 12th Man Kickoff Team led by Coach Jackie Sherrill. The notoriety of the kickoff team played a key role in shaping the 12th Man into what it is today.
The 12th Man Kickoff team was launched in 1983 as a concept that Coach Jackie Sherrill wanted to explore. In 1983, prior to the start of their season, Sherrill put an advertisement in the student newspaper, The Battalion. The ad announced tryouts for the purpose of forming a completely volunteer kickoff return team.
Texas A&M student James Barrett, whose father Ray Barrett had played on the Junction Boys football team under Coach Bear Bryant, decided to try out for the team. He kept this decision a secret from everyone except his future wife, Carol Hickman. A total of 252 students tried out. Sherrill narrowed it down to just 17 players, one of which was James.
The “experiment” brought national attention to the university and the new kickoff team. Sports Illustrated printed a six-page spread in their 1983 fall issue. James played on the 12th Man Kickoff Team for the 1983 and 1984 seasons before graduating from the university. The courage and strength he demonstrated on Kyle Field were qualities that would serve him well as he would enter a physical battle of another kind off the field some years later.
Barrett Off The Field
James and Carol married in 1985, and joined two impressive A&M lineages into one. Carol’s father, Royce Hickman is a College Station native and former president of the Association of Former Students. Her grandmother managed The Backyard, one of the first restaurants and bars on Northgate. Several years after their marriage, Carol’s parents moved back to the area to be near their grandchildren, and soon jumped in with both feet as Royce became president of the local Chamber of Commerce.
James Barrett first met David when buying an engagement ring for his then-girlfriend Carol. They became instant friends. The Barretts soon settled into the Bryan College Station area where James flexed his entrepreneurial muscles and became an active member of the local community.
One 12th Man’s Challenge with ALS
In February of 1999, James was diagnosed with ALS, a rare neurological disease with no known cure. The doctors offered “2-5 years” as a framework for his progression. It was a grim diagnosis for this 36-year-old father of four children. Fortunately, he and his wife Carol leaned into their faith and felt the community rally around them as they made a gameplan for fighting the disease head-on.
“I’ve always tried to look on the positive side of things,” James shared in an interview with AP sportswriter Michael A. Lutz. Carol also shared her optimistic perspective with Lutz during the interview. “We treat James like he is living, not like he is dying. We are all terminal, you know, but we’re going to beat this.”
While Carol managed the Barrett household, 15-year-old Nathan took a job at David Gardner’s Jewelers, for the first time, in the facilities department where he assisted with daily chores and special events. With Nathan under their wing as an employee, the Gardners’ path again became interwoven with the Barretts’ and their friendship grew into the meaningful connection that remains to this day.
David Gardner was honored to support James and his family in a personal way during this time. For several years, David drove James to weekly infusion treatments in Houston.
Those drives were the beginning of a men’s Bible study group, the Renegades. As Julia Gardner shared, the group’s growth was largely due to the Barretts’ testimony of faith during James’s ALS diagnosis. “Seeing men who had never mentioned God before, sitting around the living room, with Bibles opened on their laps, was so powerful. This happened because they saw James and Carol’s courage and hope in the midst of his illness.”
A Legacy of Courage and Faith
James and Carol Barrett enriched many lives through their example of faith amidst James’s illness, and in true 12th Man fashion, presented a way for others to be a part of something bigger than themselves. In the spring of 2005, surrounded by his community of friends and family, James won his battle against ALS and passed into eternity after a six-and-a-half-year fight. And while ALS took much from James on this earth, it served to strengthen those who loved him, in both their faith and their resolve to honor his legacy.
“James was an underdog on the 12th Man Kickoff Team, often up against scholarship players who didn’t want them there,” said Carol. “With his ALS diagnosis, he became an underdog again, but handled everyone around him the same way, with kindheartedness.”
The James Barrett Legend Lives On
Nathan hopes to pass his father’s kindness on to his own son, two-year-old James. Carol will tell you that it’s the quality she admires most in Nathan. The Barrett-Ashfield family continues James’s legacy of hope with thankfulness for the community who stood behind them in their own time of need, and stands behind them still, today.
Honoring James and the 12th Man Tradition He Represented
The David Gardner’s team is proud to have known James Barrett, our favorite 12th Man. We will hold him in our hearts forever and continue to support the Barrett family for years to come. He was such an inspiration to those of us who got the opportunity to know him and those he left behind.
And, while preserving James’s memory is of paramount importance to us, we view our commitment to the Texas A&M University community as another way to honor his memory.
As football season arrives this fall, you’ll find us in the stands cheering on our Aggies and sharing in their wins. We’ll be shouting our support of the 12th Man from the rooftops, knowing that we’re simultaneously rooting for our favorite 12th Man, James Barrett, to honor his memory.