Coach Harms

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    I remember seeing him only a few times when he didn’t have a pencil tucked behind his left ear. On each of those occasions, he was wearing a striped shirt and carrying a whistle.

    My friend, Bob Harms, a coach and teacher to thousands of Lander Valley High School students passed away a few days ago.


    In the half-century that I knew Bob, I can’t remember him ever complaining about anything. Inherently positive, he was an advocate for the Tigers and Lady Tigers at every conceivable venue, both athletic and academic.

    Bob was a throwback, as “Old School” as an old school coach is allowed to be these days. He was a shop teacher extraordinaire as well. That sharpened number two pencil he always carried could just as easily write down measurements on a student’s project as it could record intervals, splits, or steps on a jumper’s approach.

    Shop teachers that coach are a rarity in the profession. My friend Chico Her Many Horses, a man of incredible talents who was also a friend of Bob’s is one, as was legendary wrestling and track coach Ron Nelson of Lusk, and football and wrestling coach Pat Balinger of Dubois. My friend Cory Clemetson taught shop and ran the offense with me on the Riverton Middle School football team with the same precision that these other four vocational teachers brought to the classroom, the mat, the track, and the field.

    Bob suffered in his final years in a losing battle with Alzheimer’s. We all noticed a few years ago when he wasn’t quite as sharp with events at track meets. As is the case with many people suffering from this horrible ailment, his long-term memory remained as sharp as that pencil.


    My mother-in-law Ruth Hahn suffered for years with this disease. I watched helplessly as she relived the passing of her husband Sigmund hundreds of times, never remembering he had died, and reliving the pain each time it was brought to her attention, but just as quickly forgetting it happened.

    Two of my mentors, Glenn Burgess and Carl Andre suffered the same fate. A fate that Bob had to face as well.

    All three men were extraordinary in their ability to remember distant events, but each had that confused look of not knowing where they were or why they were there as the disease advanced.


    Bob didn’t have favorites, he loved and worked with all his kids equally, but he did have performances that he favored over others.

    One hot spring afternoon at the Bobcat Invite in Thermopolis I asked Bob what it was like to coach Paul Fields.

    For those who don’t remember, Fields was arguably the greatest track and field athlete to ever take to the cinders in Fremont County. (Yes, in our day all the tracks aside from the hard, road asphalt of Cody were made of cinders.)


    Bob’s face lit up immediately, “You knew Paul?” he asked.

    “Yep,” I said. “He was quite a hurdler.”

    I went on to explain how I had a front-row seat to Paul’s hurdling ability in the prelims of the 180-low hurdles in Powell one morning.

    Fields had lane four. I doubt if he ever had anything except lane four after his freshman year. I had miraculously been placed in lane three. As the gun sounded, Fields pulled away, by the fourth hurdle he’d already had a full flight on everyone else.

    Bob smiled again and began to tell me how Paul had excelled as a decathlete in Idaho, competed in the Olympic trials, and had a chance to make the 1980 US Olympic team, the one in Moscow that we boycotted to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

    Bob enjoyed the success of his athletes beyond the halls of Lander Valley High School and kept track of them as they moved to adulthood, finding their place in the world.

    In his final years, he began to focus on the pole vault. If you’ve never tried vaulting or attempted to coach it, let’s just say it’s a challenge. It along with the discus, high jump and hurdles are the most technical of all athletic events.

    On another afternoon, this time as I took photographs and reported on Fremont County athletes at the Shane Brook Meet in Lander, I spotted Bob sitting in a lawn chair, watching the pole vault.

    I took a seat on the ground next to him and took in a little wisdom. I’d coached the vault and managed to not kill myself in high school practice one night clearing 8-6 with a stiff fiberglass pole, but I was far from an expert.

    Bob began to detail the intricacies of approach, plant, speed, pole placement, the tuck, the extension, and the turn. It was fascinating.

    When I asked what was the hardest to teach, he said the technique after they left the ground. He then went on to describe how he took his vaulters to the pool, to work in the deep end. He had them place their poles in the water and practice body movements in the buoyancy of the water. It was brilliant.

    When I told him how impressed I was, he grinned and said, “I’ve been around this game for a while.”

    If you haven’t discovered it, great coaches and teachers have interests far removed from the classroom and the athletic field.

    Bob knew I was a farmer at heart with a few cattle. So was he. A couple of times we sat together at basketball tournaments with our mutual friend the late Alfred Redman. Yes, we talked about basketball, but most of our conversations involved hay, grain, cattle, and equipment.

    You can take the boy out of the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. Bob was proof of that.

    I remember Bob officiating our basketball games when I was in high school, and later I often found him wearing the stripes when I took the Wranglers to Dubois, Pavillion, or Ethete. He was unflappable as an official. I knew he must have heard me yelling, but he never indicated it, a true pro at the game.

    Many measure the success of a man by the awards and accolades he wins. Bob won his share of coach of the year honors and coached the sport he loved for over half a century, but he never mentioned the awards, the championships, or his induction in the Wyoming Coaches Hall of Fame.

    He did mention how one of his distance runners was competing in college, how one of the girls he coached had just earned her doctorate, or that one of his guys was now on the staff of some college program.

    It was always about the kids with Bob.

    It’s easy for a coach to know the statistics of the kids they’re coaching or how they’re doing at the next level, but Bob was a student of the game and a fan of the kids from across the county and the state.

    He often asked how my son Brian was competing at Dickinson State, and I was privileged to listen to Chico reply to the same question about his sons Keegan and Caleb as college distance runners.

    You won’t see the squarely built man, with the green jacket, and the pencil behind his ear any longer, but he’ll still be there.

    When you make the difference in a teenager’s life that Bob did for three generations, it can only play forward.


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