High School Basketball

Legendary high school girls basketball coach’s career ends one game short of state final

John Harder discusses his legacy

Southeast High girls basketball coach John Harder discusses his legacy after his final game.
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Southeast High girls basketball coach John Harder discusses his legacy after his final game.

The ball bounced high off the rim, then bounced around it again before finally falling through.

Once it fell and a timeout was called, Jacksonville Bishop Kenny’s Jasmyne Roberts said she knew she was going to convert the second free throw.

She did, then Southeast High’s girls basketball team pushed forward in a frantic final 13 seconds that resulted in a turnover and Bishop Kenny avoiding a meltdown to close out a 49-48 victory in the Class 6A state semifinals at the RP Funding Center on Wednesday.

The victory ended the Seminoles’ season at 25-5 and closed the book on one of the most prolific girls basketball coaching careers in the country.

John Harder, who won a state title in his first season at Southeast in 1985, coached his final game with the Seminoles. He’s retiring at the end of the school year.

“It’s storybook, couldn’t have been better scripted,” Harder said in summing up his career. “It’s by the grace of God that I sit here. I sat here 34 years ago and I’m sitting here on my last day of my career. Tremendous respect for the FHSAA. ...

“Ever since I walked into this gym (Wednesday) afternoon, everybody, including the coach from Bishop Kenny, treated me as if I was something special. And these girls have done that all year long. It’s really hard to leave. I feel like I’m 29 starting all over, but I’m 70. The years have caught up with me.”

Ever since he was 5 years old and given a basketball for the first time, Harder became enamored with the sport he was later destined to amass more than 900 career victories between his time in his native Illinois and in Bradenton at Southeast.

Harder’s final career line at Southeast: 826 wins, 216 losses, three state titles, 22 district championships and the basketball court inside Southeast’s Benjamin “Buzz” Narbut gym bearing his name.

Most importantly, though, is how he affected so many players throughout the years, which was evident with his last group.

“He’s a fantastic coach,” said Charmaine Murray, a senior who finished Wednesday’s game with nine points. “He taught me a lot ever since I was in ninth grade. I love playing for him.”

“We just wanted to make it a great experience for him, because he’s retiring,” said sophomore Perryauna Youmans, who had a team-high 19 points. “I think he’s one of the best coaches we’ve ever had. He’s known worldwide, so he was a pleasure to play for.”

Added senior A’moni Waiters: “To be able to experience this exact moment with him, it’s just a great feeling. And I really, really like playing for him.”

The magnitude of Harder’s final game wasn’t lost on Bishop Kenny coach Charlsea Clark, either.

“I went to a coaching clinic over the summer, this guy gives you advice about, in coaching, what are you trying to do,” Clark said. “Are you coaching for the next job or are you coaching to put your name on the floor? And that hit me. I’m coaching to put my name on the floor. So to see his name on his floor when we’re watching film, I’m shaking his hand saying, ‘I’m humbled.’ ”

Southeast stood toe-to-toe with Bishop Kenny (29-2) throughout the game, which entered the final quarter deadlocked at 35.

The Seminoles took a lead in the final minute on a Waiters layup. But Roberts, who drove into the paint on nearly every Crusaders possession, was fouled with 13.8 seconds remaining.

Clark said she didn’t watch Roberts’ free throws, the first one dropping in after multiple bounces off the rim to tie it, the second giving Bishop Kenny a one-point lead.

That set the stage for Southeast to sprint forward and attempt a lob pass inside to Waiters, who was posting up. The ball deflected around before Bishop Kenny secured it, then the Crusaders ate up the final seconds to end Southeast’s season.

And close out a storied career for John Harder.

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Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.


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