Someone to Watch Over Them
By Guy Thompson
In one of his earliest basketball games at Northridge High School, Dr. Keith Barkow sat high up in the stands, watching the game with his family.
When a player got injured on the floor, Dr. Barkow made his way down to the player. “To me, it seemed that everyone got quiet. Who is this person?” he recalled. “To me, you could hear a pin drop.”
Now into his 17th season of working with Northridge teams, he is a familiar face along the sidelines or behind the bench as he keeps a close eye on the high school players. But he didn’t expect to end up here.
Dr. Barkow studied at Indiana University and did his residency in South Bend. “I thought I’d stay in South Bend,” he said. “But I had an opportunity with Goshen Health who wanted to start an office in Middlebury.” He had done some rural rotations as part of his residency, and late in his residency had an “odd feeling with South Bend,” he admitted. He called another doctor to ask if he knew of any opportunities and was told about the planned office in Middlebury.
Dr. Barkow and his wife, Diana, drove over to Middlebury on a Saturday to look around. “On Sunday at church, I kept getting nudged,” he said. He couldn’t quite get the idea out of his mind, so they drove back over and stopped at the McDonald’s in Middlebury. “There was a lady behind me in line and I asked her to tell me about Middlebury,” he said.
And she did. “She and her husband spent 45 minutes talking to us about Middlebury. The swim association. Little League. We realized there was a lot to do in Middlebury. After that, everything fell into place,” Dr. Barkow stated.
Dr. Barkow approached the school to introduce himself and ask if the school had a team physician. He was told that they had the father of one of the students who was an ER physician part-time. “I asked if there were any students who needed to be seen in the training room. So I started going every Thursday after school to see any students that the trainer needed a second opinion on,” Dr. Barkow said.
Now he attends all of the football and basketball home games, wrestling matches and other sports as needed, all on a volunteer basis. And he’s been doing it long enough that he has known some of the students he is watching their whole life. “It’s fun watching patients of mine, who were babies I delivered, are now in high school playing sports. That’s cool to experience that,” he said. And some past students are now parents.
“Not all teams have a doctor with them,” noted NHS Athletic Director Dave Harms. “It has been a very nice addition to the sideline.”
Dr. Barkow is also thanked by parents whose children he has helped out on the field or court, saving them expensive trips to the emergency room. “It’s rewarding when people say that with me there, they feel safe with their kids playing,” he added.
“He volunteers his time at the games and even if he’s not really working, but is at a game, he’ll still respond,” Harms said. “That’s the neat thing about Dr. Barkow. He’s always willing to help and be there.”
“The kids are fun to work with,” Dr. Barkow continued. “It’s easy working with kids. I treat their son or daughter like I would treat my son. I’m going to do what’s best for him or her. I’m looking at their futures.” That doesn’t mean parents always agree with him, especially when he sidelines players, but he reminds them that it isn’t about just one game or season. He’s thinking long-term for the student and what a chronic injury now might do to them later in life.
One of the most recent concerns that he works to address is concussions in young players. “It’s something we take very seriously. It’s hard to tell a student that they are done, but I am looking at their long-term health. I’m willing to have parents yell at me to do that,” Dr. Barkow said.
Dr. Barkow helped to start a sports night to help students who didn’t have a personal doctor get physicals for sports. All of the doctors who help with the event, which is still done annually, volunteer their time, Dr. Barkow pointed out. “The money we raise goes to buy items above and beyond the sports department budget. We do it as a service to the community.”
“He stops by every Thursday to talk with the trainer about anyone he needs to see. He helps with all of the sports and that is a great asset to our athletic trainer,” Harms noted.
Harms has gotten to know Dr. Barkow and his family over the years outside of the school sports environment as they attend the same church. “He’s one of the most caring individuals I know. He’s very loyal and helpful. I know I can count on him,” Harms said.
Dr. Barkow plans to continue his work for the school, attending games and keeping a watchful eye on the students playing. “I enjoy it, I really do,” he said.
And the lady and her husband he first met at McDonald’s that sold him on the town are now patients of his.