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Metcalf coaches, teaches with positivity

Barb Metcalf cheers on her team during their state tournament game against Valley City. Chris Aarhus / Forum News Service1 / 2
Barb Metcalf talks strategy with her team during a timeout in the Packers’ second-round state tournament game against the Valley City Hi-Liners. Chris Aarhus / Forum News Service2 / 2

The Packer girls basketball program got a bit of a boost when Barb Metcalf was named head coach six years ago.

In the six years before she was hired, the Packers went 62-78, which is a winning percentage of .443. Since her hiring in 2008, they have won 97 of their 143 games for a .678 winning percentage.

She has coached two 1,000-point scorers, been in two state championship games and won her first Eastern Dakota Conference Coach of the Year award this season, an award voted on by her fellow coaches.

“It’s pretty humbling,” Metcalf said. “To do something that I love to do and be patted on the back by my friends in the conference is truly unexpected. It’s a coaching staff award. The coaches are supportive and carry out what I ask of them every day. The program is never about one person, and it has certainly never been about Barb Metcalf.”

Her keys to success? Adaptability and a positive attitude.

“When there is something in my life – whether it has to deal with school, basketball or something personal – I always try to find the positive side of things,” Metcalf said. “In the past six years, I left my comfort zone. Coaches in the past had their patterns, and that was it. It was the same way in the classroom. Now I change with the times, and that spices it up for myself as well as the kids.”

The Wyndmere, N.D., native – now in her 20th year as a social studies teacher in West Fargo – is known for bringing her own upbeat and energetic style to her classroom and the court, believing that it rubs off on her students.

She currently lives in West Fargo with her husband, Steve. They have two children, Jake, who is currently enrolled at North Dakota State University, and Jaeden, who is a junior at West Fargo High School and a guard on her mother’s basketball team.

Growing up, Metcalf played basketball, softball and track at Wyndmere High School and at the University of Mary in Bismarck. While she loves all sports and still runs regularly, basketball has always been her favorite. As a member of the Wyndmere Warriors (now known as the Warbirds), she was a 1,000-point scorer known for her 3-point shot and perimeter defense. Her belief that good defense fuels a team’s offense carried from her playing days into her coaching style.

What she loves about the sport – apart from the team aspect – is how it teaches athletes to adapt and react, and she feels this year’s team is a perfect example.

“We ended up 21-4, and the adversity the kids put up with throughout the season as far as injuries weighs on a team physically and mentally,” Metcalf said. “That’s life, though. What I relished about this team is the way they handled all of that as a team.”

She decided to pursue a career in education — and spend two decades teaching U.S. history — for the same reason she wanted to be a coach: to help individuals reach their goals.

“Who doesn’t want everybody to succeed?” Metcalf said. “Who doesn’t want every kid to apply himself or herself? The same thing goes for players. We all want to win, but so does every team out there, so your process – you have to hope, as a coach – is going to work.”

Another reason she feels “very blessed” to have her two jobs is that she enjoys the young people she works with every day.

“Anybody in this business does it because they love kids,” Metcalf said. “If you didn’t, I think this would be a tough job to come to every day. You can try to fake it all you want, but the kids know if you care about them.”

As a coach, Metcalf patterns herself after Pat Summitt, legendary coach of the Tennessee Volunteers womens basketball team. She has adopted Summitt’s mindset of setting smaller goals, like winning the next game, that will set a team up for their larger goals, like winning a state title.

She has also picked up some things from Summitt's coaching style as well.

“She likes to have all of her players have a ball in their hands at all times,” Metcalf said. “Watching her practices, you see that every kid is holding a ball. When you shoot it, you get your own rebound. She also talks about the idea that if you are going to play zone, you better be able to play man-to-man. The idea that zone is a ‘lazy defense’ isn’t the way it should be.”

After a sixth-place finish in the state tournament this season, Metcalf is already looking to correct some issues for next season, but she is confident in the future of her West Fargo Packers.

“The Packers will continue to go strong, because I think we have a good base program,” Metcalf said. “As for me, I’ll keep doing what I do to the best of my abilities. If the administration wants to continue supporting me as a coach, I will gladly lead the green and white. In the coaching business, you are not guaranteed anything, and I don’t take any of it for granted. I have been blessed with a wonderful ride, and we’ll see what happens next.”