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Different school colors, same approach

11/13/2015 12:19PM ● Published by Richard Gaw

Former Oxford head basketball coach Sean Harvey was recently named the new athletic director at Kennett High School.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

The thought of seeing Sean Harvey dressed in any other color but the rich maroon of the Oxford High School colors seemed unimaginable, so when he was spotted walking the home field sidelines at Kennett High School's first home football game on Sept. 4 – wearing a navy blue shirt emblazoned with the letter 'K' – it looked like an optical illusion.

Harvey was there, however, not to be the subject of illusion, but to further carry on the one mission that has guided him, ever since he first went into coaching at Oxford more than 17 years ago: to provide students with the fundamentals of how to succeed in life.

In late August, after a stellar career at Oxford as a teacher, head basketball coach and former athletic director, Harvey was named as Kennett's new athletic director, replacing Jeff Thomas, who became the school's new assistant principal.

Harvey's arrival at Kennett was not a retread of the story told a million times, that of a burned-out coach looking for a new lease in life. Indeed, it was far from it; as late as this past summer, Harvey was about to embark on his 14thas head basketball coach at Oxford later this fall, and despite a first-round loss in the PIAA District playoffs this past winter, he was excited to begin a new season.

“But when I saw the position advertised at the and of July, I knew I had to go after it,” Harvey said. “Getting my principal certification was always a goal of mine, as was getting back into administration. As difficult as it was to leave my basketball players at Oxford, it had to be done, because the Kennett school district is phenomenal.”

Harvey's admiration for the Kennett community dates back, ironically, to basketball. More than a dozen years ago, as the Kennett basketball team was inching its way to an eventual state championship, Harvey, then a junior varsity coach at Oxford, was often in the stands, looking at the Xs and Os of how those Kennett teams became a success.

“Following them around in the state playoffs, I began to enjoy the community support and enthusiasm the team received from everyone,” he said. “Getting to know teachers and coaches, they always said positive things about this district.”

To Harvey, transferring to another district and returning to athletic administration was a family decision.

“My wife Nicole and I had been discussing me getting back to the administrative end of it, and I had her full support before I applied and made sure of that, because we're a team,” said Harvey, 44, who also includes five-year-old son Chase and seven-year-old daughter Elizabeth as the other members of Team Harvey.

For Thomas, Harvey was the perfect fit for the job.

“From my experience, working with Sean for ten years when he was the AD at Oxford, he was organized, easy to work with, knows about athletics and districts,” Thomas said. “He's very familiar with the working of the job of an athletic director. He had all the intangibles to be the best person for the job.”

To hear Harvey talk about the aspirations he is setting for his new role at Kennett -- divided into one-, three- and five-year goals -- is to hear the words "winning culture," but not in terms of wins and championship banners to be hung in Kennett's gymnasium.

"I want the kids to have an unbelievable experience with their coaches, that doesn't necessarily have to equate to wins and losses," he said. "It's so much more about competing, playing hard, and doing the right things on the field, in the classroom and the community. I have always believed that the primary goal of any coach is to make his or her players better people."

Within three years, he would like to pilot a leadership academy for Kennett student-athletes, to take place every summer. He sees the academy offering a full curriculum for the students that will not only take them to the weight room but to the classroom for courses on leadership, as well as creating opportunities for them to work as volunteers in the community – such as at senior centers and youth organizations. Within five years, he would like to share that program at high schools throughout Chester County.

"We have a lot of sports captains, but we don't know if they truly know how to lead," he said. "Being a good leaders requires reaching out, and not doing it alone but in partnership, because in order for something to work, it takes an entire village."

Harvey's plans for the leadership academy fit the overall philosophy of the Kennett athletic program, Thomas said.

"Sports allows young people to become lifelong learners, to learn how to deal with adversity in a team setting, to apply life lessons through athletics," he said. "I believe Sean has that same goal as well. You talk to very successful people in life, very often many of them will tell you that they learned about leadership and goal setting from being a member of an athletic team. Sean's ideas will create opportunities for young people to realize that they can be leaders, not just on the field, but later in life."

On the afternoon of March 23, 2014, when Harvey faced his Oxford players moments after their ten-point loss to heavily-favored Philadelphia Roman Catholic in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs, he knew that every athlete in that locker room had left everything they had on the court. More importantly, he knew that several had played their last game for him, and were about to embark on something larger than the often myopic breadth of a young athletic career. Overcome with emotion, he told his players that he loved them.

Harvey's connection to his players continues well beyond their playing days, and he keeps in close contact with several of them as they enter college or the working world.

"I don't look at my players from the standpoint of their playing careers," he said. "I look at my former players in terms of who they are now."

One of his former players is now a 29-year-old man. Harvey had heard that the man was having difficulties, and that he had recently cut himself off from his friends. Harvey reached out to him.

"He told me, 'Coach, I'm embarrassed. I lost my job,'" Harvey said. "He told me, 'I don't want to see anyone or talk to anyone.' I told him, 'We'll work on it. We'll find a new job for you.'"

The man eventually found a new job and the last time Harvey heard from him was to get the news that he had just received a job promotion.

"I'm hoping that whatever sense of integrity I had as a coach played out with the way my players carried themselves," Harvey said. "I truly care about people, and I enjoy building relationships, and I look forward to making those same connections here at Kennett."

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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