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A Penguins' void: 'The Voice' is muted

| Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009

Anyone who knows John Barbero well will tell you he's seldom at a loss for words.

An articulate and personable man, Barbero owns a distinctive voice that has endeared him to thousands of people in his role as the public address announcer for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

He has manned the mike for the past 36 seasons.

"It's nice to know that people appreciate your work," Barbero, a lifelong resident of Roscoe, said. "I've always taken my job seriously and taken pride in it. If someone compliments me on the way I do it, that means a lot to me because I want to be professional at all times."

Respect for and admiration of Barbero's standards has never been more evident than during his absence. He's sidelined this season as he recovers from Astrocytoma: an inoperable brain tumor.

"The doctors told me it's a Level II condition," Barbero, 64, said. "They said someone my age is usually at Level III or Level IV, which is more serious."

Because Barbero's tumor was determined to be inoperable, he has endured lengthy chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Hillman Cancer Center in Pittsburgh.

Symptoms of his tumor surfaced in February when Barbero traveled to Arizona to visit his daughter Melissa in Scottsdale.

"My eyes began bothering me on the flight (to Arizona)," Barbero said. "The pain was excruciating and I thought it might be a problem with cataracts. Fortunately, my son-in-law is an eye surgeon so he gave me a thorough examination and a new prescription."

The condition worsened, however, as Barbero returned home.

"I had to drive with one eye closed from the (Pittsburgh International) airport to Roscoe," he said. "I'm still not sure how I made it home."

Barbero was diagnosed with the tumor located in the center of his brain, but he still completed his duties with the Penguins during the season when the team won its third Stanley Cup championship.

"I've missed only a handful of games, maybe four or five, during my time with the team," Barbero said. "I was determined to make it through the season, especially the playoffs. I needn't tell you it was an exciting time, a special chapter in the club's history."

Barbero returned to Mellon Arena for the Penguins' 2009-2010 season opener as a spectator.

"Yes, it was kind of strange just sitting there and watching the game," he said. "But I enjoyed it."

He continues to follow the team's fortunes on television and radio. "I wouldn't miss them," he said of the broadcasts.

The absence of Barbero's voice echoing through Mellon Arena during home games has created a void.

"Pittsburgh is a unique place, different than most other cities that have professional sports teams," said Tom McMillan, vice president of communications for the Penguins. "The fans are the best in the world, no question about that, and they are accustomed to broadcasters and announcers who have become fixtures here. Bob Prince, Myron Cope, Mike Lange and (longtime Pittsburgh Pirates public address announcer) Art McKenna are in that category. So is John Barbero."

Barbero received a 2009 Stanley Cup championship ring from the club.

"It's beautiful," he said as he displayed the large ring inscribed with Lord Stanley's trophy and personalized with Barbero's name. "I anticipated getting (a ring) this year but I was still surprised by it and I am deeply grateful for and humbled by this recognition."

Barbero has become known over the years for pronouncing the names of players in a unique way.

Two of the most memorable crowd-pleasers over the years were "Mario Lemieuuuuuuuuuu" and "Jarko Ruuuuuuu-too."

McMillan said Barbero is always well prepared for his work.

"He would get to the Arena a couple of hours before game time and check with the visiting broadcasters on the pronunciation of the opposing players' names. He was always well prepared and has done (his job) the Pittsburgh way --as a true professional."

Barbero, a 1969 graduate of California State College was an educator -- a teacher and administrator -- by vocation for 35 years. That career ended in 2004 when he retired as principal at Waynesburg High School.

With a positive attitude and the competitive spirit that has been another of his hallmarks, the story continues to be written as Barbero perseveres the greatest challenge of his life.

"The doctors are very encouraged by the progress we've made," Barbero said. "I'm getting the best care possible with the doctors and nurses -- everyone -- at Hillman."

He's also buoyed by the "incredible" support system surrounding him.

"I can't say enough about my family and friends, the way they have helped me through all of this," said Barbero, who lives with his son and daughter-in-law, Brady and Katie Barbero, and their six-month-old son, Quinn, in Roscoe. Another son, Brett Barbero, also lives in Roscoe. "There aren't enough ways to thank them for their concern, care and love."

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