Note – this blog is the first in a “Pride of the Prairie” series at The Genz blog ( by Dan Genzler of Sioux Falls, S.D., and will feature all-time greats from South Dakota and the Midwest. 

For wriers, finding a few gems of knowledge, particularly new jewels that have been hidden for some time, is like a kid enjoying a twist ice cream cone on a hot Sunday afternoon. You get excited and imbibe in a treat that is refreshing but leaves you wanting more.

Recently, I found out that the legendary University of Southern California baseball and basketball coach Justin “Sam” Barry was born in Aberdeen, S.D. After reading about his life, I learned that he along with Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers manager George “Sparky” Anderson and Notre Dame’s Frank Leahy had connections including being born or growing up as youth in South Dakota.

Barry, with Anderson, born in Bridgewater, S.D., and Leahy, formerly of Winner, S.D., had careers that left an imprint on the national sports scene. All three men have been inducted into prestigious national Halls of Fame. And, interestingly, both Anderson and Leahy have direct connections to Barry.

After the sudden, unexpected death of legendary USC football coach Howard Jones in 1941, Barry was named head coach of the Trojans for football, baseball and basketball, a rarity. Barry had served as Jones’ top assistant for years and had come to the Los Angeles campus because of Jones, who coached with him at Iowa.

Jones left Iowa in 1923 after directing the Hawkeyes to a co-championship of the Big Ten, which wasn’t again accomplished until 1956. He went to Trinity College (later Duke) for a year before he was hired in 1925 at USC. When USC’s basketball job opened in 1929, Jones recommended his friend and former colleague. Barry took the job and also was named head baseball skipper.

Over the next 12 plus years, both men experienced significant success, as Barry also served as a football assistant to Jones. USC won three national titles in football, seven PAC-10 conference titles and five Rose Bowls. USC’s baseball (5) and basketball (3) teams, coached by Barry, won a combined eight conference championships.

The USC football team, which was mourning Jones’ death, didn’t recover in 1941, falling to a 2-6-1 record with Barry at the helm. Yet, Barry led the team to a pair of impressive performances, including knocking off Oregon State, who would go to the Rose Bowl that season. In the season opener, Barry, in his first game as USC football coach, directed the Trojans to a 13-7 win as USC scored the winning TD with 13 seconds to play.

Later in the year, Barry directed his troops to a near upset of fourth-ranked Notre Dame at South Bend, where the Irish were led by first-year coach Frank Leahy, who finished 8-0-1. For Leahy it was the start of a remarkable career, which would put him into the College Football Hall of Fame. Leahy finished his Irish coaching career with six national championships (two as a player under Knute Rockne and four as the head coach). 

Leahy coached the Irish in 1939-40, 1941-43 and 1946-53, compiling a mark of 107-13-9, or an .864 winning percentage, which still ranks second best in NCAA DI football annals. He trails only his mentor and coach Knute Rockne.

Barry would serve as USC’s coach just two more games before leaving the campus to serve in the U.S. Navy in 1942. Barry’s final game as head coach was a 7-7 tie with city rival UCLA in the 1941 season finale.

So, there it was a Winner kid (Leahy) and an Aberdeen boy (Barry) matching coaching strategy as their teams butted head on the biggest of stages. Leahy’s Irish won a close encounter, 20-18, before more than 54,000 in attendance.

An interesting sidebar about that 1941 game is that both Barry and Leahy were first-year coaches. In the long rivalry of USC-ND, it wasn’t until Brian Kelly of Notre Dame and Lane Kiffin of USC met in 2010, that another pair of first year coaches faced off in one of America’s most famed rivalries.

Also during that time, Barry became acquainted with Bridgewater’s Anderson, who served as the bat boy for the USC baseball team in the early 1940s. We all know that Sparky would become the first major league manager to win World Series for teams in both leagues. He was inducted into Cooperstown (major league baseball hall of fame)  in 2000. Sparky was also the first manager to win 600 career games in both leagues and as a minor league manager directed a team to a 4-3 win in 29 innings, the longest uninterrupted game in baseball history.

All three men had famed careers and biographies worth noting. The Genz blog takes a look back at the careers of the three men, all who unfortunately have passed on, but are prime examples of the “Pride of the Prairie.” For more about the men, go to