BHS coach is ‘one of the best in the nation’

After 37 years, Bob Gourley still coaching Eagles’ throwers

Posted 6/3/21

Where do you start when discussing long-time Barrington High hammer and weight throw coach Bob Gourley?

Might it be that he has developed at least eight national and six state champions?

Might …

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BHS coach is ‘one of the best in the nation’

After 37 years, Bob Gourley still coaching Eagles’ throwers


Where do you start when discussing long-time Barrington High hammer and weight throw coach Bob Gourley?

Might it be that he has developed at least eight national and six state champions?

Might it be that he has developed numerous Barrington High School throwers who have gone on to succeed in college like current Alabama hammer thrower Bob Colantonio, Princeton grad Adam Kelly, Wake Forest grad Charlie Ionata and Troy University’s Mike Alvernaz?

Might it be that he has received so many awards he might have needed a large trophy case in his home?

Might it be that even though he has been coaching for 37 years (he began at Barrington High in 1983), he has no intention of throwing away his charts?

“I enjoy doing it and at the same time I feel I’m helping out kids,” Coach Gourley said. “Regarding high school, you see the athletes develop not only as throwers but you see their whole maturity process. You also see them develop as a person and you see their skills improve.

“I plan to be here for a few (more) years.”

Bobby Colantonio was a 2019 All-American in the in the hammer; a 2019 All-American in the indoor weight throw; and a fifth-place finisher in the hammer at the 2019 World Juniors. He also is one of only two people to have won three state championships in the hammer and currently is ranked eighth in the country.

Following each of his meets, Colantonio takes a few minutes to text or call Coach Gourley. He likes to stay in touch with the long-time Barrington High School coach.

“Besides the fact he is a master of the event by seeing it for so long as a coach, athlete and spectator, his positivity and communication are great,” said Colantonio who has a 251-foot hammer throw on his resumé. 

“He always took the pressure off athletes and reminded us to go out and simply have fun. This helped me out a lot because I always wanted to be the best.

“By simply going out and having fun took off all the pressure and allowed me to let it happen.”

Legendary University of Rhode Island track coach Bill Falk had a major influence on Coach Gourley when he was at Hope High.

“He was very positive, very understanding and made sure we tried to do the best we could,” Coach Gourley said. “He was very encouraging and supportive.”

It was Coach Gourley’s uncle, Bob Ainsworth, who saw something in his nephew that persuaded him to take up weight events.

“My sophomore year (at Hope) I ran the 600 and 1,000 indoors and the 440 outdoors,” Mr. Gourley said. “One day a hammer was lying on the track. I think my uncle talked Bill to go after me. Bill saw the hammer and said ‘Let’s try the hammer.’

“I got into throwing by accident.”

After graduating from Hope in 1960, Coach Gourley joined the Air Force and spent 16 years overseas. Eventually he took night classes and graduated from Maryland in 1979.

“I threw off and on in the service,” Coach Gourley said. “In England I belonged to the British Athletic Club and started coaching younger kids.

“When I got back to the states I picked that back up.”

Thirty-seven years later Mr. Gourley has received the following accolades:

• 2015 Rhode Island Track Association Coach of the Year (the first time this was presented to an assistant).

• 2015 inductee into the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Hall of Fame.

• 2015 recipient of the Ken Warren Award for Leadership (i.e. for outstanding dedication and commitment to throwing events) from the National Throw Coaches Association.

• 2016 Doug Speck Award for Excellence and Innovation.

• Multiple New England Official of the Year recognition by the U.S. Association of Track and Field Coaches (Gourley is a Certified Level 1 official which is the highest that can be attained).

• National Scholastic Service Award.

“Each one has touched him in a certain way,” said Classical High’s Bob Palazzo, the Purple’s athletic director, track and field coach and President of the Rhode Island Track Coaches Association. “At the National Throws Association it was very touching.

“He was humbled by it. I think it touched him deeply because it was presented by prestigious members of the throw community.”

While Mr. Gourley didn’t invent the hammer, as far as Palazzo is concerned he’s a major reason for its development.

“He’s the reason why the hammer throw has increased in other states,” Mr. Palazzo said. “He’s the single reason why kids across the country have participated in the hammer and has advanced the event across the country.”

Adam Kelly, who was a state champion in the hammer and at one time the number one thrower nationally in this event, holds the Ivy League record for the indoor weight throw and competed in the NCAA East Regional.

“Coach Gourley is one of the best coaches in the nation, which leads not only to consistent technique but also his advice during a competition can often get a good result on an overall, rough day,” Mr. Kelly told Mile Split R.I. “Thanks to Coach Gourley, I have an idea of what to expect almost every meet.”

Barrington’s Mike Alvernaz, as a junior at Troy University, qualified for the NCAA East Preliminaries in the hammer and weight throw and also earned all-conference academic honors.

Charlie Ionata, another standout at Barrington who worked with Coach Gourley, earned a host of ACC honors in the hammer and weight throw as well as All-ACC Academic honors.

Whether it’s the hammer or the indoor weight throw, each event requires a specific technique.

“All the disciplines have their own degree of difficulty,” Coach Gourley said. “They aren’t cookie cutouts. What works for one athlete doesn’t always work for another. A coach must see what works for each. Technique is so critical and has to be adjusted along the way.

“These are events from the time you start you need progressive acceleration, technique and delivery. There must be a fluid movement from the time they start until the time they deliver. The release point is critical. Something I tell the kids is that the most difficult thing is the six inches between the ears such as confidence.”

Communication and character also are crucial to Coach Gourley.

“I think great coaches are many things,” Mr. Palazzo said. “He’s a great student of this event (i.e. the hammer). He’s very knowledgeable. He’s a very good communicator. He communicates that information very well to his athletes.

“There aren’t many guys left who are coaches of character. He says and does the right things on behalf of his kids.”

As Colantonio noted, Coach Gourley’s affinity for his events is something that’s impossible to measure.

“He gives back so much that it’s incredible,” Colantonio said. “Not once did he ever want anything in return for his athletes or anyone.

“He simply did things for the goodness of doing them. I think a lot of people lose sight of that and do things because they expect to get something in return instead of doing things for the sake of kindness and helping those who need it.”             

Mr. Palazzo has his own opinion on why Coach Gourley isn’t inclined to fade into the sunset.

“This is his life,” Mr. Palazzo said. “He has a wonderful life with his children and it fills a tremendous void for him. He’s certainly not doing it for the money.

“I think he has a tremendous passion for it. He’s still a very effective coach. That should be the determining factor in deciding to remain in coaching."

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