MONTGOMERY – Coach Robert “Bob” Harpe saw a teaching opportunity in every practice or game. He made sure the lessons learned would be positive ones.
Harpe spent most of his teaching and coaching career in his home town of Decatur where he guided Austin boys’ basketball to great heights. It was his personal impact on the student-athletes, however, that his former players and peers remember most. Harpe is one of 12 individuals in the Class of 2017 being inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame banquet will be Monday, March 20, at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.
Harpe graduated from Decatur High School in 1965 and from Athens College in 1974. He also has a master’s degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He began his teaching and coaching career in 1975 at Oak Park Middle School in Decatur where his seventh-grade team posted an undefeated season. The following year he moved over to Austin High School as assistant junior high football coach and head varsity golf coach. He held those positions for seven years, taking the golf team to the state tournament numerous times.
In 1983 he was named head basketball coach at Austin, a position he would hold for 15 years with great success. When he left Austin, his legacy was a record of never having a losing season and an average of 21 wins per year. His teams made three trips to Class 6A state tournament. The 1993 team won the state championship and the 1996 team made the semifinals. He was named The Decatur Daily Large School Coach of the Year four times and more than 20 of his players signed college scholarships.
In 1998 he left education and went into private business. He returned to education in 2003 with the Arab City School System, serving as athletic director and head basketball coach. His teams won the county championship once and were runners-up twice. He compiled an overall 306-143 won-loss record as a head coach.
Following in his footsteps at Austin is one of his former players and current head coach Jakes Miles.
“I have known Coach Harpe for many years and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, he has given his life to Austin High School and the game of basketball,” Miles said. “As a former player of his, he pushed us to be the best we could possibly be both on and off the court and challenged us to be as good off the court as we were on the court. He wanted good basketball players on his team, but he wanted better people first.
“Coach Bob Harpe has set the standard for basketball coaches in north Alabama…. He pushed his players and made average players special people. I personally look up to Coach Harpe and thank him quite often for the life lessons he instilled in me. As the present coach for Austin High School, we still follow in the traditions and guidelines that he established in his tenure at the school. I can also feel the support he has for me and Austin High School as he comes to support me, my program and our school.”
Former Austin Principal Richard Pace said that under Harpe’s leadership many student-athletes went on to become successful college athletes and productive citizens in their communities.
“Coach Harpe set high goals for himself and those students in his program,” Pace said. “He expected to achieve those goals through hard work. Not only did he expect students to work hard, but also he was committed to outworking everyone else.
“As a coach, he was a friend, mentor and supporter of all student-athletes. Many times he went to the gym at all hours to help students with personal problems. He constantly worked to improve the facilities and conditions under which students participated. It was important to him that athletes performed well in the classroom, so he monitored student progress and provided opportunities for study and to make up class assignments.
“Coach Harpe did not limit himself to school affairs only. He has been active in church, civic and community affairs and continues to support young athletes by working in basketball camps and providing support to local and state athletic organizations.”
Former Birmingham-Southern College Coach Duane Reboul is reminded of Harpe’s example of integrity in the coaching profession.
“I have watched his teams play, have recruited his players and have had numerous discussions concerning the game of basketball with Bob,” Reboul said. “There is no question in my mind that he is one of the very best basketball coaches that I have encountered during my career in coaching, which spans 35 years and three states.
“His teams, coaches and players always conducted themselves with discipline and class while playing with intensity and confidence. He not only prepared his players for all aspects of the game, but he demanded excellence without demeaning his players. He was a teacher and a coach that any parent would like to have their son play for.
“He has also been a leader and active member of the community. He has been an outstanding role model for his players as a husband, parents and as a professional.”
Harpe’s work with the AHSAA has included serving on the Basketball Coaches Committee and the Golf Coaches Committee. He was involved in the development of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game and served as boys’ administrative coach from 1990-95. He was on the Legislative Council from 1990-98 and also served on the Central Board of Control. From 2010-15 he was a volunteer with the regional and state basketball tournaments.
Thursday: Eighth installment of the Hall of Fame series: Decatur coach & administrator Lorenzo Jackson.