CHARLOTTESVILLE — “Not good enough” wasn’t going to fly with Jim O’Hara.
Early on during his first season at the helm of Eastern Hancock’s football program last fall, the coach made a declaration to the Royals’ players, assistant coaches and parents: No coach was allowed to tell him a player is not good enough.
If a player was not ready to play Friday night, he said, that was an indictment of the coach, not the player. He told them he refused to pilot a team predicated on the play of a few premium athletes going two ways, while the majority of the roster looked on from the sideline. In a family, O’Hara explained, everyone loves each other, and everybody contributes. His team would be a family.
Dana Allen, mother of Royals senior tight end/linebacker Cole Allen, loved the idea. She was also skeptical of the first-year skipper. He was an ex-Division I college quarterback who was returning to head coaching after having won a state championship at Indiana football powerhouse Cathedral. Did he really care more about rural Hancock County youngsters becoming men than piling up wins to improve his already impressive record?
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Allen had spent her whole life around sports and had heard plenty of coaches pay similar lip service. Rarely, she said, did they follow through.
O’Hara, though, was not one of those coaches. And given his unique, positive influence, Allen was motivated to nominate O’Hara for the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award, which recognizes athletics leaders who stress good character.
The Royals became one of the few small-school teams in the state to start 20 to 22 different athletes every Friday night, with many more earning snaps throughout the game, just as O’Hara promised.
“I think it made them better,” Allen said, “The kids knew that if they worked hard, they could end up on the field. It wasn’t just going to be Cooper (Henderson) and Logan (Splater) on the highlight films. Everyone was going to be a part of it.”
To O’Hara, being a positive influence in his players’ lives is a choice. He didn’t always make it early in his career; but after a few times around the block, he began to understand that there were more important things his players needed to learn than how to throw a tight spiral.
Teach them that, and they might go on to play in college, or they might not. Teach them to grow into caring, respectful men, and odds are they will go on to lead happy, satisfying and successful lives.
O’Hara did not win the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award last week, though he was one of 75 finalists out of more than 2,100 applicants.
However, while humbled by the honor of being nominated, that sort of recognition is not why he coaches.
Coming up this spring, O’Hara will attend the wedding of Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle. A 2008 Cathedral graduate, Doyle last played for O’Hara more than eight years ago. He was one of the people Allen got to write O’Hara a letter of recommendation for the award.
“That’s your pay as a coach,” O’Hara said. “That’s how you know you’re doing a good job.”
Though they struggled early in their first season under O’Hara, losing two of their first three games, the Royals went on to win nine straight, including a sectional title before falling against Indianapolis Lutheran in the regional championship.
Allen was blown away.
“I was just so impressed with the way he worked with the boys,” she said. “He preached family the whole time, and we really saw them become that. The boys cared about each other more than I had ever seen them before. I think we enjoyed a lot of success because of that.”
It was for this reason, among others, Allen spearheaded O’Hara’s nomination for the Positive Coaching Alliance honor, which she saw advertised on Maxpreps.com while scouting future Royals’ opponents during the season.
The national nonprofit group, whose goal is to promote positivity and character-building in youth and prep sports, gives the award to 25 coaches “who embody the ideals of the Double-Goal Coach, striving to win, while also pursuing the more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports.” The alliance’s slogan is, “better athletes, better people.”
O’Hara was humbled by the nomination.
“It’s a very cool thing,” he said. “I didn’t expect it, but I really appreciate it.”
Allen said the of work filling out forms, documenting O’Hara’s exploits with the Royals in his first season, was well worth it. She collected letters of recommendation from fellow impressed parents, coaches and others former colleagues and players of his, such as Doyle. She said O’Hara deserved to be recognized for the example he had set for her son and all of the Royals players.
“He’s a good coach trying to make better men,” Allen said. “That’s the whole Double-Goal thing. We have had a lot of one-or-the-others here before. Some had pieces and parts of both. But I have never seen a coach put it all together like he does.”
“The parents are thrilled. It’s not often that you sit in the stands, and you don’t hear parents complaining, but that’s what happens here because everyone knows and understands his mission. In the first five minutes of the parent meeting he told us that he loves our boys. And his coaches love our boys. And that they were going to be a family. And he followed through. The parents believe that he loves our kids. That means a lot. It’s a great feeling as a parent knowing you’re not the only one looking out for your kid.”
November: Eastern Hancock head football coach Jim O’Hara is nominated by Royals mom Dana Allen for the Positive Coaching Alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award.
According to its website, the Positive Coaching Alliance is “a national non-profit developing “Better Athletes, Better People” by working to provide all youth and high school athletes a positive, character-building youth sports experience.
Feb. 17: O’Hara was one of 75 finalists, selected from more than 2,100 nominations for the alliance’s Double-Goal Coach Award, which is, “given to 25 youth and high school sports coaches from throughout the U.S. who embody the ideals of the Double-Goal Coach, striving to win, while also pursuing the more important goal of teaching life lessons through sports.”
March 10: O’Hara was not selected as one of the 25 winners — who each received $250 and a trophy among other honors — but said he felt, “blessed and honored” just to have been nominated. “It’s a very cool thing,” he said. “I didn’t expect it, but I really appreciate it.”