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PREP BASKETBALL: Ithaca's Bob Anderson reflects on 50 seasons of coaching
Ithaca girls basketball coach Bob Anderson instructs his players in a home game against Fulton earlier this month. Anderson has coached 50 seasons combined between girls and boys basketball. (Sun Photo by SKIP TRAINOR)
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Ithaca High School girls basketball coach Bob Anderson might have the 50-season club all to himself.
Anderson, in his second year coaching the Yellowjackets’ girls basketball team following a previous stint of 17 years with the varsity boys program at Ithaca, is only a handful of games shy of 1,100 for his career as he has coached varsity basketball games at four different schools.
In all, Anderson has spent 27 days of his life simply on the sidelines coaching varsity basketball if you add up all the 32-minute games not even including overtimes.
He will move one game closer to the 1,100 total Tuesday night when his Yellowjackets girls play host to rival St. Louis at 6 p.m.
The colorful coach, who needs no prodding to spin entertaining story after entertaining story, tells of his basketball coaching beginnings.
“In 1978, I was hired to coach junior varsity football at Gaylord St. Mary’s,” Anderson said. “I had a mustache back then and being in Gaylord, it would snow and rain and after games I’d have these ice beads on my mustache. After one year, they came to me and asked me if I wanted to replace the nun who was the basketball coach. I said, ‘I would do anything to get inside.’”
Anderson had played varsity basketball at Ithaca High School where he graduated from in 1967, but he had no experience whatsoever coaching the sport.
Evidently, it did not matter.
He coached the Snowbirds’ girls team for seven years, leading them to a great amount of success as he went 126-35 over that period of time. He led Gaylord St. Mary’s to the state semifinals in 1983, where it fell to the eventual state champions.
Anderson also took over the boys program at Gaylord St. Mary’s and pulled double duty for four years, leading the Snowbird boys to a 63-28 mark.
“I had three 20-0 seasons in the first six years I coached,” Anderson said.
It was clear Anderson could teach high school basketball.
The coaching mentor he points to in helping him carve his own set of skills is the late Bill Kirby, who coached the Ithaca High School boys basketball team while Anderson played there.
“You looked at Coach Kirby and said, ‘Gee, I want to emulate him.’ He was like the hero in Ithaca,” Anderson said.
Anderson proceeded to move on to Vanderbilt High School, where he coached the boys team to a 48-29 record over four years and the girls squad to a 59-66 mark in six seasons.
On paper, the record he coached Vanderbilt’s girls team to was not overly impressive until you consider it was a program that had not won more than seven games in a single season in its history.
An opening at his alma mater of Ithaca finally brought him back to his hometown in the early 1990s and he spent 17 years as the Yellowjackets’ boys basketball coach through 2010, while also teaching middle school social studies which he retired from that same year.
Anderson compiled a record of 250-140 as the Ithaca boys coach including a final 2009-10 campaign in which the Yellowjackets won a school-record 21 games and both conference and district titles.
He also had what can be an unenviable task while at Ithaca of coaching his two sons, Matthew and Jeremy.
“Coaching my two sons was by far the toughest thing I ever have had to do in basketball,” Anderson said. “I always said I would be fair and respect is a big part, just like when I was growing up with nine brothers and sisters. Well, I’m not sure I was fair to my sons. It was almost as if I felt I had to justify them playing for me. Thank goodness, I learned a couple years ago that Matthew had talked to Jeremy about this. He told Jeremy that when a kid dribbles down court and throws it behind his back and out of bounds, dad’s not going to say too much. But if you do it, he is going to ream on you. He is going to use you as an example for when he wants to get mad. That’s the most difficult thing I had to do as a coach, because you are so conscious of what people are thinking.”
Until 2007 when the MHSAA changed the seasons, Anderson also coached the Alma girls varsity program for 10 years. He led the Panthers to a 112-105 record and three conference titles in his tenure.
While at Alma, he was out having coffee one morning when he received some advice that needless to say did not stick.
“I was out with the guys and they kept telling me I need to yell at my team to show them I care,” Anderson said. “Now, I’m kind of a laid-back guy but I listened. The next game, I yelled and yelled and yelled. I came home that night and my wife says to me, ‘What were you doing tonight? Not only did you embarrass yourself, but you embarrassed me and you embarrassed the school.’ That experiment lasted one game.”
Unfortunately for Anderson, his days at Alma and as a dual coach between boys and girls also had to eventually come to an end.
“The girls and boys seasons being separate was the only way I managed to accumulate my 50 years,” Anderson said. “The addition of the 3-point line and the seasons being put together are the biggest changes I’ve seen during my coaching career. It forced me to pick one or the other.”
Anderson has been coaching in mid-Michigan long enough to even get recognized while far away from the area.
“I was walking in the Bahamas one day and someone comes up to me and says, ‘Hey, aren’t you Ithaca’s basketball coach,’” Anderson said. “I was on a cruise ship in the Bahamas and was recognized. I couldn’t believe it. I think they were from Coleman or something. That’s when you know you’ve been around for a long time.”
While the Bahamas trip was a successful one, there was another proposed trip to Hawaii in 2000 that could not take place for one reason only.
“My wife came home one day in January and told me she had won a 10-day trip to Hawaii,” said Anderson. “She was all excited about it and I told her there was one problem. Since the trip had to be taken by March 1, I told her there was no way I could go. There was no way I could preach to the kids about commitment and dedication to basketball and then leave the team to go on a vacation right at the last part of the season. She wasn’t too happy about it at the time.”
Anderson has been married to Jeannie for 38 years, so it’s clear that the lack of a trip to Hawaii was not exactly a deal breaker.
“She’s been the best wife I could have asked for,” Anderson said.
After being out of coaching for a couple years, the Ithaca varsity girls basketball team needed a new coach in 2012 and Anderson was tabbed by athletics director Terry Hessbrook as the man for the job.
The Yellowjackets, in a rebuilding mode when Anderson took over, won just five games a season ago.
But Ithaca is 2-2 already this season and more importantly, 1-0 in the Tri-Valley Conference West as it gets set to host St. Louis Tuesday night.
With 50 seasons of coaching under his belt and who knows how many more in his future, Anderson said a good number of his former players remain in contact with him and he prefers it that way.
He not only has made an impact on their lives, but it is evident all the former and current players he has coached have made a great deal of impact on his as well.
“It’s been very rewarding,” Anderson added. “It’s a profession that I dearly love. Working with young kids, they make me feel young. I used to think I was a fatherly figure, but now I’m probably a grandfatherly figure. So many memories and great people I’ve been privileged to coach and get to know over the years. It’s been very special.”
Last Updated: 12/17/2013 2:16:33 PM EST