By PATRICK SLACK
The Saturday before Easter, Barney VanHavermaet received a phone call.
His brother, a “basketball junkie” as VanHavermaet calls him, had some news.
VanHavermaet, the Swanville assistant boys basketball coach, had just been named the state’s Class A Assistant Coach of the Year.
“I don’t know where he found out,” VanHavermaet said. “He just sent me the link to look it up. I just said ‘Wow.’”
“It was a complete surprise to me,” he said. I had no idea I was even nominated. Nobody from the school told me anything about it.”
VanHavermaet’s coaching journey began largely due to necessity in the winter of 1998. The program needed an assistant coach, so longtime Swanville football coach Conley Natvig said, “Why don’t you ask Barney?”
He had experience playing basketball during high school in Sauk Centre, but outside of volunteering with Little League teams, “Coaching I learned on the job,” Van Havermaet said.
“Now I’m on my fifth head coach,” he said. “I just love working with the kids. I’ve done all the way from junior high up. I even got my first crack at head coach this year.”
A couple of quick technical fouls handed down two minutes into Swanville’s game against archrival Upsala, which entered undefeated, thrust VanHavermaet into the lead role for the first time.
“I treated it just like any other game,” he said. “We were up 10 on them for a while, but then they buried us for a little bit.”
Swanville rallied back within four in the final minute before running out of time. By the end of the year, the Bulldogs had put together one of their best seasons in VanHavermaet’s tenure, going 15-8.
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” VanHavermaet said. “My very first team as an assistant we came a game short of winning the conference. And we had a C team one year that wasn’t expected to do well that wasn’t expected to do well go 17-4.”
“I love being the assistant, working with the kids,” VanHavermaet said. “I’ve never really pushed to be the head coach. It’s more fun just being the guy in the background, giving input when asked.”
That support hasn’t been lost on those he’s assisted, as the award is chosen in large part due to a nomination letter written by the team’s head coach.
“It was a big surprise and a great honor,” VanHavermaet said. “It’s just fun working with the kids. (Head coach) Steve (Miller) has been a real pleasure to work with. You think of all the different high schools there are in the state of Minnesota … it’s still sinking in.”