Prep Rally | Coach Harder continues to adapt, returns Seminoles to the top

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 28, 2014 

Southeast head coach John Harder cheers on his team during Saturday's Class 5A girls basketball state final at The Lakeland Center in Lakeland. The Seminoles won 52-35 for the school's fourth girls basketball championship, the third during Harder's tenure. TIMOTHY R. WOLFRUM/Bradenton Herald


John Harder was won three state championships in 30 years as Southeast's girls basketball coach.

Average it out and that's one title every 10 years. Not a bad number considering most coaches go decades without hosting a title trophy once, much less thrice.

Most impressive, however, is Harder has done it with three different teams in three different decades, molding and shaping myriad personalities and juggling a whole assortment of egos and attitudes along the way.

His 1985 state championship team was different than his '90 championship squad, and both were different than the 2014 championship team. The Seminoles' most recent run through the Class 5A playoffs encountered one hiccup, an overtime win at Cape Coral in the Region 3 final, and was capped by a dominating performance at the final four, where Southeast beat Land O'Lakes and Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee by a combined 42 points.

Perhaps that's why Harder couldn't pick a favorite among his three titles, choosing instead to celebrate the fact he now has three championship rings, one to give to each of his children.

But what Harder has been able to accomplish shouldn't be overlooked. Rather than lament the fact that he was able to to win two championships in five years but had to wait 24 years for No. 3, marvel at the fact that No. 3 happened at all.

Coaches often are judged in an X's and O's vacuum. That's a fallacy, especially in prep sports, where coaches can't -- well, aren't supposed to be able to -- get players made specifically for their system.

You get what you get and hope that you're blessed with what Harder was this winter: four seniors who had been playing together since they were freshmen. They were so crisp at The Lakeland Center, so precise, and were living proof that togetherness and chemistry are integral rather than overrated components of a winning formula.

Credit Harder, however, for changing with the times. Yes, he wore a plaid blue and orange sportscoat decades older than his players last weekend and a pair of saddle shoes he purchased while he was attending Southern Illinois.

But you can't be successful as long as Harder has without acclimating yourself to one new generation of kids after another, all the while sticking with what has made you so successful in the first place.

Unlike some of his past teams, Harder's 2014 Seminoles didn't have any bona fide Division I prospects or players who could can a 15-foot jump shot.

Guess what? They won anyway.

They won because the man mentoring them understands that perhaps the easiest job a coach has, especially at the high school level, comes during the games. Worrying about grades and eligibility and fiancés and hardships in a player's personal life -- that's the hard stuff.

And it's something Harder has been able to juggle for the past 40 years, winning games and admiration along the way.

The 2014 Seminoles aren't like any of the previous three of the school's girls basketball teams, two under Harder, that brought a state championship trophy back to Bradenton.

That's what makes them, and their coach, so special.

John Lembo, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow him on Twitter @JohnLembo1878.

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