Aug. 5—Jordan Barker knew what was coming as a first-time coach at one of northeastern Kentucky's premier girls soccer programs — not to mention, his alma mater.
"There's not only excitement, but there's pressure," Rowan County's new skipper said.
That's OK with Barker. He's used to it.
Barker was the 16th Region's soccer officials assigning secretary and before that one of the region's most prominent referees. He was the center referee for the 2018 girls state tournament final and also arbits region basketball and baseball.
Barker, who played at Rowan County and Kentucky Christian and on Morehead State's club team, realized coaching was about the only angle from which he hadn't experienced the beautiful game.
"Everyone always thought I'd get into coaching early on, and I went the officiating avenue first," Barker said. "I do think all those different avenues give me a very unique perspective about the game, and I'm super excited to see it from a totally different side.
"I've always been willing to accept new challenges in life," Barker added.
He has one in the form of the Vikings, who were the first program currently aligned into the 16th Region to win a region tournament title in 1995. Rowan County is tied with Ashland for the second-most region crowns, with four. (Both are a distant second to Russell and its 13.)
A youthful Vikings club slipped to an uncharacteristic 5-13 last fall, but Barker has been impressed with his team's intensity, integrity and approach, he said.
"They understand where they want to be," Barker said. "We don't have a lot of seniors, but the seniors and the upperclassmen we do have, they seem to have a vision and we're moving forward to it.
"And they know they can't do it by themselves, and they've really adopted and taken some of our underclassmen under their wings."
Rowan County athletic department staffer Randy Wallace touted Barker's "knowledge of the game and desire to rebuild the program" as characteristics that suited him well for his new job.
Wallace is himself familiar with that gig. The Vikings' most recent region tournament title in 2015 came under his direction as coach.
"He knew going in there was a lot of young talent with not much experience," Wallace said of Barker. "He and his staff have a ton of enthusiasm and excitement with the opportunity."
Barker credited his relationship with former Vikings coaches Alan Evans, Kayla Sloan and Wallace as he pursues placing Rowan County back among the region's elite.
"I want to serve the girls on the team first, and my current staff," he said, "but then also my goal is to respect and live up to the legacy of all the coaches that have had the program before me as well."
Barker sees "some minor adjustments" in going from officiating and assigning to coaching, but he's recognized some carryover as he trades his referee's whistle for that of a coach.
"My approach to the game has always been, how can I support others to make the game better as a whole?" the 2008 Rowan County alumnus said. "So before, it was, how am I navigating this game to help the integrity of the game? Now, I'm trying to instill that same integrity and respect for the game into players and actually be able to teach them."
Barker had had "multiple opportunities" to break into coaching both in and out of the region in recent years, he said, but believed officiating and assigning was the best way for him to give back at that time.
Wallace agreed that Barker was successful in that way.
"Jordan did a really good job as our assignor," Wallace said. "He loves the game, and you could definitely see that when he attended games to grade his officials. He paid attention to detail to make sure our district and regional tournaments were run and officiated as professionally as possible."
Barker, 32, didn't point to a specific moment that mindset changed to make him want to pursue coaching, but said "it happened super quick."
"I had some success officiating," Barker said. "I felt like I left the region in a place as good as I could leave it, from an administrative standpoint. We grew a lot from when I took over, even though it was a short period of time, in those three seasons, to where, when the coaching opportunity came up, I felt like that was just my next logical step."
One aspect of the jump Barker hasn't quite wrapped his mind around is what it will be like to see his former fellow officials when the Vikings walk out to meet Menifee County in their opener at Paul Ousley Stadium on Thursday.
"I'm excited," Barker said. "I've thought about it. I'm sure every single person I've ever officiated with is gonna have their own thought on it too, but I don't have an answer.
"I'm not gonna know until I get in that moment, and I've told some of my staff that, you know, you may have to bring me back to reality, because I'm sure I'll be taking in the moment, for sure."