By Susan Fotovich McCabe
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — The game never gets old for Bob Harbour, St. Thomas Aquinas’ assistant girls varsity basketball coach here.
As the season comes to a close, Harbour, 67, will have logged 22 years on the court and as a mentor to scores of the school’s female athletes.
The Lake Quivira resident and member of St. Joseph Parish in Shawnee isn’t a teacher at Aquinas. In fact, he’s a businessman.
Harbour is the longtime owner of Harbour Construction, an asphalt pavement company in Kansas City, Kansas. Yet, he has garnered the respect of staff and students alike.
“Bob is great with the kids,” said girls basketball head coach Rick Hetzel. “He is very respected by all our players and he works so well with them on our individual fundamentals and our team.
“Coach Harbour brings so many positives to our team. First of all, he is not a ‘yes’ man. I’m able to bounce ideas off him. He gives me his opinions and I value his thoughts immensely.”
The two men met in 1997 when their paths crossed on the court. Harbour was coaching CYO basketball at St. Joseph School in Shawnee. Hetzel was the high school’s junior varsity coach and asked Harbour if he would be interested in the assistant coaching position. Harbour’s son Casey had just graduated from Aquinas; it seemed the perfect time to make the transition.
And he’s never looked back.
“I can’t wait to get started in November each year. It’s time-consuming, but I’m not afraid of hard work,” Harbour said. “It has been such a good experience for me and we’ve been successful.”
Harbour credits his success to not having a daughter of his own and to a dream he once had to be a coach. He played basketball for Turner High School in Kansas City, Kansas, and earned a degree from Pittsburg State University.
“I have always wanted to be a coach,” Harbour said. “I hadn’t envisioned being a girls coach. But when Rick got the head coaching job and asked me to be his assistant, it was a dream come true.
“I didn’t know how long I’d enjoy it. But once I got into it, everything changed.”
Aquinas alum Lindsay Martin, Olathe, recalls the role Harbour played in her life.
“He is such a stand-up guy and coach!” said Martin, a 2006 Aquinas graduate. “Coach Harbour was one of the best coaches I have ever had while playing basketball.
“He not only cared about each of us like we were his own daughters, but he had an innate way of integrating his humor and wit into his coaching. He is, in fact, to this day still making sure we all are doing the best we can do.
“It is pretty amazing to have a coach that cares about his players in all aspects of their lives.”
It’s a memory shared by Overland Park resident and 2004 Aquinas graduate Carolyn McCullough Spexarth.
“Coach Harbour is a wonderful encourager,” Spexarth said. “I recall Coach spending extra time before and after practice to help players fine-tune their shot and increase confidence in their abilities. He makes each player feel valued as an important contributor to the team’s success.
“Now, as a sports parent myself, I have an even greater appreciation for coaches like Coach Harbour, who have a genuine desire and steadfast commitment to helping young athletes succeed.”
According to Hetzel, when Sister Kathleen Condry, OSU, offered him the head coaching position 21 years ago, the girls overwhelmingly agreed Harbour would be an outstanding assistant coach.
“How right they were!” Hetzel said.
That may be because the assistant coach gets to be “the good cop,” Harbour joked. Fortunately, he says, he and Hetzel share a mutual respect for each other’s talent, experience and opinions.
Harbour credits Catholic schooling for the team’s success as well.
“I think we (Catholic schools) can challenge our kids more and, because of that discipline, we expect them to give more,” Harbour said. “Our success has a lot to do with a faith-based education.”
Not surprisingly, Harbour enjoys scouting as much as he enjoys coaching. According to Hetzel, Harbour is tireless about scouting and well-known in the school’s league and around the city.
“You can always see him in the stands, scouting games. And that is so hard to find in assistants,” Hetzel said.
As for the future, both coaches envision more time on the court together.
“Bob and I together had a dream to build a competitive program at Saint Thomas Aquinas in girls basketball,” Hetzel said. “We share the same passion and excitement for basketball and our players.
“I cannot imagine coaching without him, and the positive impact he and his wife Patty have had on our program has been enormous.”
It’s a sentiment Harbour shares.
“I enjoy it. And as long as Rick is coaching, I’ll keep doing it,” Harbour said.