Henry County’s girls’ basketball team has tasted some success of late, but Coach Jim Hook says the one he admires the most sits behind his bench
By John Herndon, 110forChrist.com
NEW CASTLE, Ky. — Jim Hook was sitting in the same spot on the bench he’d been occupying less than 30 minutes before. His Henry County LadyCats had erased a 16-point deficit to defeat North Bullitt, 48-46. It was just the young basketball coach and a writer sitting alone in the 6,000-seat Roy Winchester Gymnasium.
Hook could only smile at the progress his team had made during the COVID-disrupted season of 2020-21. The victory upped Henry’s record to 12-8 and assured the LadyCats of their second winning season in the last three years.
Taken by themselves, those numbers aren’t eye-popping. Henry isn’t considered a threat to win the Eighth Region and will have to win two games just to make the regional tournament for the first time since 2014. Friday’s win brought the season point totals to Henry County 935, Opponents 934.
But when you consider that Henry lost 22 consecutive games at one point last season, the turnaround shouts that someone is doing things right. When the record books show that Henry had recorded one winning season — a 14-13 mark in 2015-16 — in the 14 previous years, perspective begins to highlight what has happened in New Castle the last three seasons.
But Hook looks a bit over his shoulder, checking out the spot where his wife, Meg, had been seated with their 11-month-old son during a contest that might define the progress Henry has made during the season. She clapped for the Wildcats but entertained James at the same time. She lent her vocal support as much as possible but had to remove or adjust her COVID-mandated mask after James had his own ideas of how it should cover her mouth and nose.
“She’s the real hero there,” he says. “I would not trade her jobs. He doesn’t want to go to anybody else during the games. He’s just a mommy’s boy.”
Hook’s story really isn’t all that unusual. Whether the coach is relatively new like Hook, who is in his fifth season guiding the Henry County program, or is a veteran who has been at it for decades, there is often that spouse who’s vital to any success.
They really are heroes. Unsung heroes.
It’s just that few people know just how important those spouses can be.
And in girls’ high school basketball, where men often coach, those wives can be invaluable.
At Henry County, neither the coach nor his wife have reached their 30th birthday, so Meg Hook doesn’t really qualify as a team mom. “She’s more like a much older big sister,” Coach Hook says. “Our seniors that have been with us, they were eighth-graders my first year here. I don’t know how many times she has counseled them one-on-one and gotten close to them. They are part of our family
“It’s good to have a woman around. She goes on trips and to the Christmas tournaments with us and makes a tremendous impact on the girls. And there are things I can’t always ask or say. And there is advice I can’t give because I have never been a teenage girl.”
It’s been quite a journey for Meg Hook, a Louisville native who met her future husband while they were students at Western Kentucky University. While they had been friends, it was a courtship that didn’t actually begin until after they were out of school and she was teaching in her hometown.
“I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into,” she had said before Friday’s game. “While we were dating, he was the JV coach at Metcalfe County. He got the head coaching job (at Henry County) while we were engaged. We planned the wedding and got married right before the season started.”
The Hooks will be celebrating their fifth anniversary in September.
Meg Hook knew little about the program that would become a major part of her life. She just knew her husband was excited about an opportunity and she wanted to be supportive.
“I try to be the cheerleader for him,” she says. “I try to be the cheerleader for the girls. It important to me to go to all of the games because I want to make sure that everyone has somebody who is cheering for them.”
A year ago that wasn’t easy. Not only did the Lady Cats lose 22 straight, but six of those losses were by 30 points or more. “It is so hard,” she says. “It breaks my heart for the girls, but it breaks my heart for him especially after a hard loss. I try to never involve strategy because I don’t know enough to do it. I try to give emotional support for the team and for him.”
The coach says that can be invaluable even though he tries to leave his emotions at the gym. “We have had our ups and downs here and she is always ready to listen. I would say she has made me a kinder and gentler person,” says Jim Hook, who played high school basketball at Daviess County High School.
A little over a year ago, the Hooks found out they would be expecting their first child with a due date just after the LadyCat season ended. It would have been understandable if Jim was coaching with one eye on the floor and one on his wife.
“I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be being pregnant during the season. She was a trooper in the bleachers being pregnant,” he says before chuckling, “She traveled the state of Kentucky while being very pregnant!”
Meg smiles, “I was very worried I was going to go into labor during a game last year.”
But James waited to make his entrance on March 19, three weeks after Henry was eliminated in the 31st District Tournament. Coach Hook says James sometimes tries to get his attention during games and has fallen in love with one of his players.
That love was obviously being returned Friday as several of the LadyCats made sure they were able to speak to James as they made their way onto the floor for pregame warmups. It’s the product of a program that emphasizes people first.
It’s part of the athletic culture at Henry. Players openly profess their relationships with Christ and offer post-game prayers. The girls’ basketball team makes student-driven talks about Bible verses part of the daily practice ritual.
Hook adds that his faith has been greatly influenced by Wildcat boys’ coach Enoch Welch and that he and his wife “try to provide positive Christian role models for them whenever we can.”
And part of the culture now gives LadyCat players an opportunity to influence others as they now coach in a youth basketball program that has quadrupled in size over the last five years.
Five years into his tenure, Hook has not wavered from his desire to influence people regardless of the result on the court. “He’s helping them build values that they might not be getting in other places,” Meg Hook says.
It’s how Jim Hook wants to run his program at Henry County.
And it’s easy to see that he gets plenty of help from his hero.
His unsung hero.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT?
Jim Hook readily admits he was smitten but his future wife didn’t fall as easily. The two became good friends, then saw the bond grow as the experienced many of the same paperwork struggles that face a new teacher.
But, Jim says, their first date came about due to March Madness. “We made a bet over the NCAA Tournament,” Jim, a huge Kentucky Wildcat fan, says with a laugh. “Of all the teams, Duke got me a date with her.”
Jim Hook remembers that 2015 Tournament. “I needed Duke to make it to the championship game because our bracket challenge was so tight. When Duke beat (Michigan State) and got to the national championship game, that sealed that I was going to win. The bet was she had to go on a date and pay for it, which she did not.”
Unfortunately for Hook and the rest of the Big Blue Nation, the Wildcats saw their undefeated season come to an end when Wisconsin upset the Wildcats in the other semifinal game.
Despite being devastated by the loss, Hook says he got the ultimate winner. “Her father is a big U of L fan but she is not. I have turned her allegiance!”