Chris R. Vaccaro | @chrisvaccaro
Bob Hartranft describes himself as a basketball guy. He started teaching in Farmingdale, N.Y. in 1966, the same year he began coaching lacrosse, a sport he never played. There was a basketball job in reach if he just coached lacrosse to fill a vacancy. He primarily wanted to teach and be a role model for his students.
Hartranft got the hoops gig, but 47 years later, he’s still coaching lacrosse. In nearly half a century, Hartranft took his passion for sports and teaching and changed the lives of thousands of former and current players.
For his dedication to players and their development as young men, Hartranft was presented with the 2013 Gerald J. Carroll Exemplary Coaching Award at the US Lacrosse Convention National Convention, presented by Champion, in Philadelphia in January, an honor he said he’s most proud of in his legendary career.
And even though Hartranft’s 673 career wins rank third all-time nationally—behind National Lacrosse Hall of Famers and fellow New York high school legends (772) Mike Messere and Joe Cuozzo (747) — he said he’s proudest of the Carroll Award.
“It’s about the bigger game, which is the game of life,” Hartranft said. “I’m as competitive as the next guy, but it’s not about winning. The kids have to learn lessons about life. You put them in situations where they have to learn to work hard, be disciplined and unselfish. If you can hold them accountable, hopefully they learn something they can take with them long past lacrosse.”
At first, Hartranft adapted to lacrosse as a sort of basketball with a stick in your hands. A native of Oswego, N.Y., he was more in tune with basketball from his days watching the Syracuse Nationals, a team that later became the Philadelphia 76ers.
“The defensive plays, the zones, picks, moving the ball, overloading it — so many things relate,” said Hartranft, who had a Syracuse-Notre Dame men’s basketball game on TV during the interview for this story. “I really love basketball. It’s my favorite sport. It still is.”
Hartranft has led Farmingdale to a combined 19 league, county and state titles. He also coached the 1992 U.S. U19 team to a gold medal. Basketball is his hobby, but lacrosse is his legacy.
“Not only is he an unbelievable student of the game, but he is also a man who educated me and my teammates on life lessons during our time at Farmingdale,” wrote Brendan Skakandi, a former Farmingdale and Johns Hopkins player, in his award nomination letter on behalf of Hartranft. “He mentored us on how to become quality young men. He taught us how to be accountable for everything we did, and how to work our hardest and give everything we had at all times.”
Asked which mentors made an impact on his coaching style, the 71-year-old Hartranft credited several of former Long Island lacrosse coaches from Jack Salerno at Elmont to Bill Martens at Ward Melville to Fran McCall at Bethpage.
“You’re always trying to pick people’s brains,” he said. “When you stop learning, then it’s time to get out. Whether you’re 20 years old or 60 years old you can always learn.”
It’s only a matter of time before Hartranft’s success leads him into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. He has been nominated a couple of times, he said, and occasionally he reads the letters his players submit. That’s when it usually hits him, the impact he’s left on his former student-athletes.
“When you read those letters, you get tears in your eyes,” Hartranft said. “It’s dealing with young people, and if you can help influence them in a positive way, then you’ve done your job no matter how many games you’ve won.”
Not bad for a basketball guy.
US Lacrosse annually recognizes the best and brightest players, coaches and contributors through several national awards programs. Head to the Awards pafe to meet more honorees or to nominate a candidate for consideration.