Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Miracle of St. Anthony

"There's no school like the old school."

--From The Incredibles

Coach Bob Hurley is old school. Very old school. The kind of hard-nosed high school basketball coaches that prowled the floors of gymnasiums back when that word was still used. Coach Hurley is hard because he has to be hard. He coaches basketball in Jersey City, New Jersey, a place so desolate and downtrodden that terms like opportunity and college may as well be a foreign language. Except where Coach Hurley is concerned.

This is the story of a season of St. Anthony basketball, but more that that, it is the story of a coach who still coaches to excellence, who screams and yells and even swears at his players, who coaches what some of us may still remember as "the right way". He does these things for two reasons.

First, as becomes readily apparent in the book, he doesn't know any other way. He was just as hard, harder even, on his sons Danny and Bobby, both of whom went on to play college ball at the highest levels, Bobby going pro before an accident ended that dream. And his players respond.

His players respond because, second, Coach Hurley is the way he is because he cares. He says in the book that a coach who stops yelling at you is the one who shouldn't coach, because what he's said is that he no longer cares, or no longer sees you as capable of learning or improving.

I won't go into the particulars of the book, or the season it covers. I will say, this is not only one of the best sports books I have read in a long time, it is one of the best books I have read. Period. Read it if you want to be moved, challenged or inspired, or if, like me, you want to remember that one coach who never quit on you and inspired you to never quit on him. Mine was Coach Conaway. Thanks, Coach.

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