West Xtra: Multi-talented senior performs for Ellwood City

HIGH SCHOOL TENNIS

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Senior Matt Barnes has been the No. 1 player for Ellwood City's tennis team the past two seasons and has qualified for both the WPIAL Class AA singles and doubles tournaments.

But Barnes' accomplishments off the court are even more impressive.

From winning national academic competitions to playing the lead in the school musical, Barnes has virtually done it all in his time at Ellwood City.

"He's a well-rounded kid," Ellwood City coach Keith Golabie said. "He's a great student who has won academic awards and he's an accomplished singer. He's much more than just a tennis player."

Barnes' resume is quite impressive.

In 2010, Barnes competed in the Academic Games Leagues of America's national championships in the social studies competition, which has two different areas of expertise -- presidents and world events.

The presidents competition consists of everything having to do with the U.S. presidency since George Washington first took office. The world events area is broken into two groups: current events in the past year and a pre-arranged theme, such as the Supreme Court or the American Revolution.

Barnes won both events his freshman year, then repeated the feat his sophomore year to become the first person in the competition's history to win both events two years in a row.

For good measure, he won both events again during his junior year before deciding to sit out the competition in his final year of high school.

"I just decided not to do it, but it was an unbelievable experience," Barnes said.

Because of his passion for history and political science, Barnes founded the Ellwood City High School government club his sophomore year and is still the president.

In addition, he is the captain of the school's Hometown High-Q team -- an academic quiz team that qualified for the playoffs on the KDKA-TV show.

Furthermore, he also played the Jean Valjean character in the school's fall musical, "Les Misérables."

"It's all about time management and discipline," Barnes said. "I really take all the things I do seriously and I enjoy all of it. I think you can succeed in anything that you really care about."

Still, some of his days are pretty hectic. Once this spring, Barnes had a tennis match right after school. Following the match, he then performed at a jazz concert, where he not only played the tenor saxophone, but also sang solos with the band.

Singing is something he does year-round.

Because of his busy schedule, Barnes usually only practices tennis once a week in the offseason. Considering he is playing against many players who play competitively year-round, he is sometimes at a disadvantage on the court. But he wouldn't change the way he's chosen to manage his academic and extracurricular calendar.

"I really think it's important to be well-rounded," Barnes said. "I don't play tennis year-round like many of my opponents, but I dedicate myself to the sport during the season. All I can do is try my best and take pride in everything I do."

Barnes was set back even further this season because of an illness right before the start of the spring season that caused him to miss a few weeks of school.

He didn't miss a match, but he also hasn't been 100 percent for much of this season. After qualifying for the 2012 WPIAL Class AA singles tournament, he failed to do so again this April.

"He had to play himself back into shape," Golabie said. "I think he was disappointed that he didn't make it, but he has an attitude that is always positive. He's upbeat and just looking to the next challenge."

The next challenge came at the section doubles tournament, where he played with his close friend, Beau Ewing. It was Barnes who convinced Ewing, a talented football player, to come out for the tennis team during their freshman year.

The duo won two matches before losing in the semifinals to Beaver's top doubles tandem. That meant the Ellwood City pair needed a win in the consolation final to qualify for the district tournament. Barnes and Ewing split the first two sets with Neshannock's Max Walters and Joe Bullano, then rallied from a 4-2 third-set deficit to win the deciding set, 7-5.

"It was great," Barnes said. "I've always been a singles player, but it was really nice to play with Beau and do as well as we did."

Barnes' tennis career ended Monday at the WPIAL tournament when he and Ewing lost to Greensburg Central Catholic's Bargo Patel and Dan Seamans in the first round, but his schedule is far from over.

He is preparing with the rest of Ellwood City's theatre department for a performance at the Henry Mancini Musical Theatre Awards.

Then in the fall it's off to the University of Pittsburgh, where he'll continue to build his resume as a pre-law student with a double major in history and political science.

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