A chance encounter at a wedding more than two decades ago led Midview assistant basketball coach Robert Overy on a mission to win games and change lives.
Overy, who has been a member of the Middies boys basketball coaching staff the last 23 years, was honored this season by the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association as the 2014 Assistant Coach of the Year.
“I don’t think there is a more deserving person for that award,” Midview head coach Troy DiFranco said. “He has been so loyal to Midview. He has an amazing gift of being able to teach and communicate with kids at every age level, and Robert also has amazing leadership skills.”
Overy has been DiFranco’s assistant coach since DiFranco got the job in 1997. Overy, a 1986 Midview grad, started in 1991 as the school’s freshman coach.
His coaching career began on a whim when he saw current Midview teacher and former assistant basketball coach Mike Filipiak at a wedding reception in the fall of 1991.
“I said to him, ‘Hey, Mike, if you ever need anybody to help out with the program I would be interested in giving you a hand,’” Overy recalled. “He called me the next day and said, ‘I just found out we need a freshman coach.’”
Overy has been a Middies coach ever since.
An engineer at the NASA Glenn Research Center in Fairview Park, Overy provides technical oversight to projects through the Chief Engineer’s office. He’s used many of the same leadership skills on the basketball court that he uses in the workplace.
“At my job, I do a lot of work building teams and making sure everyone is executing properly to get the project complete,” he said. “I always joke at work that what I do with team building is almost the same as what I do when I work with a group of high school kids. The only difference is the high school kids are easier to work with. They’re more willing to work together and are hungry to acquire leadership skills.”
It’s that ability to take life skills and leadership lessons from the real world and carry them over onto the basketball court that’s made Overy such an asset to the Midview basketball program.
“It’s always more than just basketball for him,” DiFranco said. “He goes out of his way to do team bonding and leadership stuff with the kids. He’s taught me the importance of building relationships with the kids before you can do anything else.”
To promote leadership and teamwork, Overy has organized overnight stays at the school and elsewhere. Overy also works with the Midview basketball players to help them do well in the classroom.
According to DiFranco, thanks in large part to Overy’s grade tracking and tutoring, 18 of the 22 players on last year’s Middies varsity and JV rosters improved their grades over the course of the season.
In 2009, Overy was one of 40 NASA employees selected from across the country to attend specialized leadership training seminars. After he completed the training, Overy said he felt the need to put his newly honed skill to work, not just at NASA but elsewhere in his life.
That included the Midview locker room where he began addressing the varsity team before each game to provide a brief lesson in leadership.
“Right away I realized the kids were hungry for something other than just the basketball message,” Overy said. “They wanted to hear about teamwork and leadership.”
One of Overy’s favorite phrases is: “It’s not about you. It’s about something bigger than you.”
Over the past 23 years, Overy has seen those words really mean something in the lives of his players.
“I want to give those kids something so that when they leave Midview they’re better for it,” Overy said. “Their lives will be better. They’re part of something that’s special and part of the community and that they take that with them for the rest of their lives. The lives that I think I’ve changed and the impact that I think I have is the most gratifying thing about coaching.
“It’s not about the wins and losses. You see it when these kids go away to college and come back to see you and they have grown up into fine adults. That’s why I do what I do.”
DiFranco and Overy have a bond that extends beyond basketball and has allowed them to spend the bulk of coaching careers working together.
“When I first got the head coaching job, I was only about 25 years old so they really wanted me to hire an older assistant but I insisted I wanted Robert,” said DiFranco, who had worked with Overy at the freshman and JV levels. “Robert is one of the most loyal people you’ll ever meet. He is really like a brother to me. He challenges me every day. Over the years he’s also helped to keep me sane. He always seems to know the right thing to say or do at the right time.”
Working alongside DiFranco has made coaching even more enjoyable for Overy.
“We have a unique and special relationship,” Overy said. “I can talk to him and say, ‘Hey, I don’t think what we’re doing is right,’ and he’ll listen to me. Troy has also been one of my biggest supporters.”
It would be hard to put a price on what Overy has meant to the Middies during his coaching career, and for a number of years there wasn’t even a dollar figure associated with his coaching duties. The district made budgetary cutbacks in 2002 that eliminated the varsity assistant basketball position. Overy continued to coach, volunteering his services for a number of seasons, until the position was eventually restored.
“I have a wonderful wife, Sheila, that has sacrificed so much for me,” he said. “It’s always the coach’s family that gives up the most. My family support has been fantastic. I was into coaching before I met my wife, so she knew what she was getting into. She knew that coaching was my passion. She has been so supportive of me. It’s really because of her that I’m able to do it.”
The Overys have been married for 18 years and have a daughter, Hannah.
In the fall, Overy will have a new challenge. Because of a change in his work schedule at NASA, he’ll be coaching the eighth-grade basketball team at Midview Middle School. The practice and game schedule at that level are less of a strain on Overy’s full-time job.
“I’ve worked with the middle school kids some already this spring and summer,” Overy said. “They aren’t much different than the high school kids. They want to work hard, learn and be challenged.”
For Overy, who said he “fell in love with the game of basketball” as a youth, that’s what it’s all about.
Contact Todd Shapiro at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.