New basketball coach Howe brings long résumé to MUHS
MIDDLEBURY — New Middlebury Union High School boys’ basketball coach John Howe fell in love with the sport in fifth grade, and fell in love with coaching it six years later, in the winter of 1993 as a junior at Rice Memorial High School.
That’s when an adult he knew asked Howe if he would like to help out with the Mater Christi School’s fifth- and sixth-grade boys’ CYO team.
Already a member of the Rice boys’ varsity team, Howe was further hooked.
“I fell in love with coaching. I knew at that point in time I’m going to coach. I’m going to coach basketball,” he recalled.
After graduating from Rice in 1994, Howe attended Ithaca College in New York, where he also played basketball.
After earning his Ithaca degree, Howe pursued a career in the mental health field, specializing in helping senior citizens, while also never stopping coaching, with stints in Massachusetts, Vermont, California and Florida as his family of now five has moved for a variety of reasons.
“I have coached every year since at one level or another,” Howe said.
His first job after college was assisting the Winthrop, Mass., boys’ varsity. Then he moved back to his native Shelburne, Vt., and coached the Shelburne Middle School boys before a move to California and an assistant gig with a girls’ program. Then came a return to Vermont, where he helped start the Vermont Lightning and Vermont Thunder girls’ AAU teams that Howe said sent several athletes to college programs.
A move to the Florida Keys and warmer weather followed, where Howe coached high school boys and helped the three high schools in the Keys create a joint travel team. He and his wife decided to return to Vermont, in part for better education for their three children, now a college freshman, high school senior, and fifth-grader.
They settled in Charlotte, and Howe coached in Shelburne for a year before being hired to coach the Stowe varsity girls’ team. He acknowledges that did not end well; he left the program with five games left in the season after he said the administration did not back him in a disciplinary issue. MUHS Activities Director Sean Farrell said he looked into it and is satisfied with Howe’s version of events.
Howe said when the MUHS job opened up he applied and was impressed with a visit. And he was more than ready to keep coaching.
“Middlebury was a great spot, and I really liked Sean,” he said. “This will be my 20th season coaching at one level or another. I’ve always said it doesn’t matter if there were six kids in a park. I’d end up sitting down and coaching with them.”
At the same time Howe said he has been particularly impressed with the character of the athletes in the MUHS program.
“We have an amazing group of young men. They’re all amazing. All 12 of these boys get better at practice every day, giving everything that they have,” he said. “We had an amazing practice this Saturday and it reminded me what an amazing group they are. They work together. They’re friends, and that helps quite a bit.”
Given that Vermont public schools are highly unlikely to produce an NBA player and even scholarship athletes are rare, Howe said he sees his mission as more than creating winning teams.
“So my goal is to produce young men or women, regardless of what I’m coaching, who will be better human beings,” he said.
One way to do that is by emphasizing doing their best, Howe said.
“Everything we do is about effort. It’s all about effort in the end,” he said. “And that again is another lesson they can take going forward. I don’t care if it’s schoolwork, relationships, jobs. There is nothing in this life that is not about effort.”
At the same time Howe said working hard does not mean the players shouldn’t be enjoying themselves.
“I really believe and what I emphasize with the kids is that we play to play. That’s my baseline philosophy,” he said. “When you’re a little kid you don’t go out and pick up a ball with the intention of making a team or trying to become a professional. You go out there because the ball looks fun. I don’t care if it’s a rubber gym ball, a soccer ball or a tennis ball. You pick it up and throw it or kick it because you think it’s going to be fun.”
Hard work and having fun are not mutually exclusive, Howe said; in fact, he said if players work hard they will have more fun, and even win more.
Howe gave an example of how while learning to listen to an authority figure and working hard athletes can also learn how to have more fun.
“If something is easier to do as a physical action, it becomes more fun,” Howe said. “We’re dribbling a ball every time we do sprints because (the coach) wants me to learn how to have better ball control while I’m moving as fast as I can. If I have better ball control while I’m moving as fast as I can, when I get into a game situation I don’t lose the ball as much. If I don’t lose the ball as much, I’m going to have a way better time.”
And after years of changing coaching gigs as his family moved, Howe hopes to enjoy sticking around at MUHS for a while.
“My long-term goal is to be an integral part of the Middlebury winter sports scene for many years,” he said.