MEMPHIS, Tenn. — We’ve heard it many times, COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate. The virus can take down some of the toughest people, including a former University of Memphis football star. Family, friends, and fans recently learned that 50-year-old Danton Barto died from COVID.
WREG’s Alex Coleman spoke with coaches and teammates about Barto, and how they’re hoping his loss will inspire others to be vaccinated.
On the first day of fall classes at the University of Memphis, students returned to campus and things almost seem normal. However, for those with the Tiger Football program, there’s nothing normal about this Monday.
“It’s with heavy heart that obviously the passing of Dan Barto,” UofM Football Coach Ryan Silverfield said. “Danton Barto, Memphis Tiger legend on an off the field. He was loved and loved by so many.”
Family, friends, and fans loved Danton Barto. Fans learned the all-time leading tackler in University of Memphis football history had passed away after battling COVID-19.
Rob Bertling was one of Barto’s teammates and close friends.
“Like I said, a force to be reckoned with,” Bertling said. “You knew there was something different about him. He was probably the best football player I ever played with.”
Harold Byrd, the president of the Memphis Rebounders, said losing Number 59 at such a young age doesn’t make sense.
“Alex, when something like this happens all you can say is sadness because he was such a vibrant young man. He did so much for the city and so much for the university,” Byrd said.
Barto played with Tiger Football from the 1990 through 1993 seasons and was inducted into the university’s athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
After graduating, he coached in the Canadian Football League, Arena Football and was an NFL scout.
As tough as a linebacker as he was on the field, he couldn’t overcome his biggest health challenge in life: contracting COVID-19.
“Even when he finally had to be put on the ventilator, we knew he had other health issues, we knew that he had dealt with some things, but it didn’t cross your mind that he couldn’t beat it because he was a winner,” his friend and teammate Bertling said.
Barto was winner on the field, a great husband and father at home, but he wasn’t vaccinated.
“I’m so sad. He mentions to people that he wishes he had been vaccinated,” Harold Byrd said. “He advised others to get vaccinated.”
Sunday night, after this year’s squad huddled following practice, a moment of prayer was held for Danton Barto and family.
“I said pray for him, pray for his family because times are hard right now,” Coach Silverfield said. “Again in the news this morning, it’s so sad because of what he meant not only to the football program, but the community.”
A community and football team that perhaps will be inspired to be vaccinated as a way to honor their fallen teammate.
“I think we’re getting close and our young men are understanding the importance of it, especially in this region and how important it is to take care of ourselves not only for the health and safety of us as a team, but our loved ones as well,” Coach Silverfield said.
Friends and family are asking that his jersey, Number 59, be retired to honor his memory.