BRENTWOOD, Tenn. -- If Yankee Stadium is the House That Ruth Built, then the Best Buddies Tennessee headquarters here at 116 Wilson Pike Circle is the house Barry Trotz Built.
Eight years after first meeting with Anneliese Barron, who shares the experience of raising a boy with Down syndrome, Trotz can take credit for helping start a “movement” of friendship, acceptance and joy that that has grown into something even he could not have imagined.
Today, Best Buddies Tennessee has expanded from two to 105 schools across the state, impacting thousands of people with and without disabilities.
It started with a single conversation between Trotz, who coached the Nashville Predators for 15 seasons, and Barron.
“I would walk around with my son (Matthew) and people would say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. Does he have Down syndrome? Oh, that’s terrible.’” Barron said, adding that some would even ask her if she considered terminating her pregnancy.
“But now they look at him and say, ‘Oh, does your son have Down syndrome? My neighbor is part of an amazing program called Best Buddies and she has a best buddy and they do this and this and this together! They get their nails done, they go out shopping, they go to see moves. You should check it out.”
“We’ve turned it into a movement,” Trotz said. “But she’s the one. Anneliese did all the hard work. I was the mouth, a scavenger I call it.”
Trotz spent his free time gathering autographed merchandise, everything from guitars signed by country artists to hockey sticks and equipment signed by pro athletes from around the country. The merchandise was auctioned off an proceeds went toward programs like the Best Buddies prom, which will be held at Bridgestone Arena, site of Sunday's NHL All-Star Game, on Feb. 21 for more than 2,000 buddies.
“As a parent you always want inclusion and sometimes that’s not the case and that’s tough,” Trotz said. “But now I think Best Buddies has really helped inclusion and confidence and that’s something to be very proud of. The hugs and smiles, those are the best rewards ever.”
RELATED: Caps dominate TSN coaches' poll
There were plenty of those when Trotz popped into the Best Buddies offices on Thursday, shortly after arriving in Nashville for All-Star Weekend. One of the first men to greet Trotz was Mike Maguire, who first met Trotz when he won four tickets to a Predators game.
Within a few weeks, Maguire, 48, had two Best Buddies, Predators defenseman Shea Weber and goaltender Pekka Rinne, and before long he became good friends with Trotz’s son, Nolan.
“I think it’s awesome that Barry came back to see everyone,” said Dee Maguire, Mike’s mother. “We hated to see him leave. We actually cried. I saw his wife (Kim) in the grocery store and she said, ‘Please don’t cry, because I’m going to cry too.”
Bryan Link, 24, hugged Trotz every chance he could.
“He’s a good man,” Link said. “I love him so much. I miss him now that he’s not with the Preds. I’m very jealous.”
Link’s best buddy is Will Macon, who now works in the administrative offices of Best Buddies Tennessee after first volunteering in college six years ago.
“I met a girl in a lunch room in college,” Macon said. “She tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around thinking it was one of my friends and it was actually a girl with Down syndrome. That was the first person with a disability I had ever met and two days later I saw a Best Buddies booth and a picture of the girl. I couldn’t stop thinking about her so signed up randomly and here I am.”
It is stories like that that warms the heart of Trotz.
“If you become a best buddy you get more out of it than you think you’ll ever get.
“I always get emotional when I talk about this. It’s emotional because just like anything, when you see it grow, I’m very proud of Anneliese.
“For me the satisfaction is that Best Buddies is going to be in Tennessee for a long time. Who knows? Down the road it could be a huge part of my life.”
MORE CAPITALS: Former Capital cross-checks linesman, claims accident