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Starkey adjusts to many changes

South's boys basketball coach remains devoted to his profession of 44 seasons

South's boys basketball coach remains devoted to his profession of 44 seasons

March 14, 2003|by BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

Bob Starkey is like a feathery jump shot.

Starkey is a package consisting of skill, touch and a feel to be successful, much like an accurate 20-footer for a 3-point basket.

The skills South Hagerstown's boys basketball coach has for his profession are never in doubt. Nor is the touch he has for managing a game or his players. But like any shooter, Starkey constantly assesses his intangible feel for the game.

Starkey has endured many changes over the last year. Some of them tugged at his feelings and questioned his resolve, but never his devotion to the game he has coached for the last 44 years.

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"I try to evaluate myself all through the season," Starkey said Thursday before the Rebels held their final practice at the Hagerstown Community College athletic complex before today's 3 p.m. Maryland Class 1A state semifinal with Pokomoke. "I try not to do it after big wins or bad losses because you are never that good and you are never that bad.

"But I ask myself if this is all coming at a bad time? I try to figure out if I mind giving up my Christmas holiday for a 44th straight year. I'm like an old racehorse. When the bell rings, I want to get out there and run."

The objective of the race changed last year when Starkey's wife Greta died after a lingering illness. Greta Starkey was a mainstay alongside the coach. Ironically, Starkey may have quit after last season if his wife was still alive.

"I'd probably have gotten out of it if she hadn't passed away," Starkey said. "I owed it to her to be around more often. She didn't have the strength to stay with the team. When I was around, it made her day. I used to come home and unlock the door and yell, 'It's me. I'm home.' I have been reading her journals and she wrote in them on those days 'Happy day. Me's home.'"

Without his wife at his side, Starkey decided to stay with coaching.

"I needed something to occupy my time intensely," Starkey said. "Basketball is all consuming. Right now, I don't have time for much of anything else. I've stopped working out and doing other things. The only thing it is really getting away of is the things I do at church."

Starkey never doubted his skill or his touch, but his feel got a boost to convince him he was still needed at South for the 2002-03 season.

"I remember at the end of last year, two of our captains, Alex Moyseenko and Jason Sellers, came up to me and asked 'You're coming back next year, Coach. If not, we aren't going to win a game,'" Starkey said. "Right then, I knew I was coming back."

As uncharted as things have been off the court for Starkey, there was no specific map for the Rebels this season in their quest to return to the state tournament. Last year's talented team made the Class 1A Final Four, but was thrown into disarray when a top player was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons.

"This year - it's an old clich - was a challenge," Starkey said. "It was gratifying. We were underdogs to get back. That's easy to say, but no one thought they'd get back. All their friends at the 'Y' kept telling them they wouldn't win."

Part of the challenge for Starkey is dealing with the difference between the college and high school games.

"Everything doesn't always run smoothly on the high school scene," Starkey said. "In college, you recruit responsible, hard-working people for your team. In high school, you take the players you get and you can't give up. If a kid doesn't conform to your system, you have to keep working to find a way to make him fit."

And in his work, Starkey says he can still feel the presence of his wife at the games.

"During the national anthem, I usually take the time to say a couple of prayers, but when I look up, I can see her face in the blue of the flag," Starkey said. "I would be loose before a game and she would be so tight. I used to try and smile or wave at her and she would be sitting there with her game face on. I can still see that so plainly."

Those are images that Starkey plans to carry with him in years to come.

"As long as I'm winning and having fun and as long as I'm communicating with the players and getting results, I'll stay with it," Starkey said. "I'm already starting to make plans for the summer league and my plans right now is to go for a 45th year."

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