Time Out: March 25, 2009

Gone was the poker face, that solemn look that rarely changes. Gone was the measured calm, the balanced model of self-control basketball enthusiasts from around the county have come to appreciate. Gone was the cautiousness, that unassuming demeanor, that humble outlook that would make you believe his team was light years behind when, in fact, they were on the cusp of becoming the first boys’ basketball team in Section IV history to become state champions. If you looked at the sidelines with 0.5 seconds to play in Saturday night’s New York State boys’ basketball title game, you would have seen South Kortright coach Bob VanValkeburgh bouncing in front of the Rams’ bench almost as high as the tournament MVP, Eric Burns, was bouncing out on the court. Van Valkenburgh ran wildly in front of his team’s bench his fists pumping in the air, then raced onto the court at the horn embracing each and every one of his victorious charges.
It was a magical moment of Delaware County basketball history. Van Valkenburgh’s Rams had just become Section IV’s first-ever Class D boys’ basketball state champs, touching off a wild celebration on the floor. Before long, the raucous, fun-spirited SK student cheering section broke out in a chorus of “BOBBY VAN” clapping their hands rhythmically to end each chant. Following the cue, it wasn’t long before one entire side of the massive arena had erupted into a chorus of “Bobby, Bobby, Bobby.” It was an unprecedented outpouring of respect for South Kortright’s well-regarded basketball mentor.
No one could deserve the appreciation more than Bob VanValkenburgh.
It could be easy to watch VanValkenburgh’s Rams and conclude that the state champions were an entity in and of themselves. That is simply not the case. The champion Rams are the culminating product of 26 years of VanValkenburgh’s toils. And the excellence we all enjoyed on the hardwoods this weekend was not simply a result of VanValkenburgh’s basketball tutelage.
You see, Bob VanValkenburgh represents modern-day excellence that stretches back to another era. Like many physical education teachers of bygone years, Van Valkenburgh is the boys’ varsity athletic program at SK. When a student-athlete at South Kortright says, “Coach” he could mean “Basketball Coach,” “Soccer Coach,” or “Baseball Coach.” VanValkenburgh is all three.
The grit and resilience demonstrated by the SK guys this weekend was not solely shaped on the hardwoods. That mental toughness, the relentless focus, the incredible discipline we witnessed was forged by the work of VanValkenburgh in every sport season, year after year, decade after decade.
Bob VanValkenburgh’s biggest gift to his players is time. Like the dedicated worker who punches in, on time, day after day, VanValkenburgh is always there for his boys. If they want to play, if they want to practice, Bob will give up his personal time to provide the opportunities they need to improve and thrive.
Employed again and again, VanValkenburgh’s gift of time has helped the SK boys’ program evolve into a premier program that performs at a championship level, almost every year, in almost every sport season. This year’s mix of talented athletes formed the perfect blend to take VanValkenburgh’s magic to its highest level. A Section IV soccer championship in the fall and Section IV’s first-ever Class D Boys’ State Basketball Title winners in the winter must have area baseball coaches asking, “What’s Next?”
The outpouring of love and respect displayed by well over 1,000 people in Glens Falls this weekend was public recognition of the outstanding work of Bob VanValkenburgh. It was truly refreshing to watch and listen to folks who did not reside in South Kortright pulling for the Rams as they made their incredible march to the state title. For the past month it seemed like everyone in Delaware County had the same favorite color: South Kortright Blue. And, everyone agreed that South Kortright’s unprecedented hardwood success could be directed back to the unwavering dedication of “Coach,” Bob VanValkenburgh. The March Basketball Madness couldn’t have happened to a nicer or more deserving guy.