Give Hart a well-deserved hand


May 27, 1994|By PAT O'MALLLEY

It was at this time last year that certain people were after Dan Hart's head. Behind the scenes, disgruntled parents, opposing coaches and members of the lacrosse officials association were campaigning for the ouster of Hart as the Annapolis boys lacrosse coach.

Hart endured cheap shots and adversity, won his job back and Wednesday night at UMBC led his Panthers to the state 3A-4A championship with a 7-5 win over Centennial.

It was more than a state title. It was redemption and self-victory, further proof that the guy, who rubs some people the wrong way, is a motivator and a pretty good coach.

Annapolis principal Laura Webb, one of the finest professionals to ever work in Anne Arundel County, was under pressure last spring to relieve Hart of his duties. At first, the situation was bleak for Hart, but as time wore on, it got better. One member of the Chesapeake Lacrosse Officials had an ax to grind with Hart. The official called Hart's behavior as a coach "unacceptable" and sent a letter to Webb and the Board of Education.

The intent was obvious and at first gratifying to the gripers when Hart's contract was not renewed by Webb. Hart fought back by appealing his non-renewal.

Further investigation of Hart's deportment by Webb and the board, influenced by a rash of positive letters and phone calls from parents and players, resulted in Hart being rehired as coach in the fall.

The support of athletic director Fred Stauffer and fellow coaches at the school also encouraged the decision to retain Hart as coach for a sixth season.

It was a joyous and redeeming occasion for Hart when Webb called him into her office to tell him his contract would be renewed after all.

Back as coach, Hart, who came up one vote short of winning the Sportsmanship Award presented by the Chesapeake Officials, still could not avoid cheap criticism and back-stabbing remarks from some of his peers and even the parent of one of his players. The parent said that "college coaches laugh when a kid says he played for Hart because they don't think he does anything to help them."

No, Hart only teaches them to strive to win and be the best at everything they do. That is a very good philosophy, and it obviously can produce state championships and give an athlete something to cherish and build on for the rest of his life.

It teaches commitment, and winners make commitments. Most college coaches seek to add winners to their programs.

It's Hart's aggressive and sometimes intense and even crude style that draws the ire of his critics.

As he said after the state title victory Wednesday night, "I'm very demanding and I'm very intense, but so be it."

His detractors often read his intent incorrectly and in some cases the way they want.

Hart is from the old school of coaching, where hard work and aggression reign. His teams are noted for their revved-up tempo, which can sometimes be scary for opposing parents. He is a coach who always seems to have his game face on and when the game actually begins, it's not an exaggeration to say that fire is in his eyes. His intense nature often is reflected by his players.

Hart's detractors like to say that maybe he and his coaches, Bob Glassman, Bob Bohanan and Wayne Daniels, and his players play too hard, to the point of winning it all costs.

He admittedly lacks diplomacy, which was the brunt of his problems a year ago when he went to the house of the commissioner of officials Harry Dobson after 10 p.m. unannounced to issue a complaint.

At the same time, Hart does not lack compassion for his players. That was increasingly evident in the early years of his coaching career at Meade High where he ran both the boys soccer and lacrosse teams.

Hart coached the Singleton brothers, Steve and Tom, at Meade during the early and mid-80s. When Steve was killed in an auto accident, the coach was there for the family.

In my column on May 12, 1985, their mother, Anna Singleton, said, "After Stevie's accident, coach Hart was there within hours to do anything he could."

"Quite frankly after our priest and myself, coach Hart was the next person that I thought could help rally Stevie and try he did. For three weeks he arrived daily with all the support he could possibly give Stevie and our entire family. It was coach Hart who also pulled Tommy up after Stevie's death."

Hart has made a career of "pulling up" young kids at times when they need a friend and guidance. Unfortunately because of his hard exterior, many only know him as that "maniac coach."

The most important people in his coaching duties, his players, know the real Hart. They know a caring coach, and Wednesday's accomplishment is more than a state championship.

It capped a year in which Dan Hart also conquered himself and many of his critics without sacrificing his intensity as the sportsmanship vote indicates.

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