Harry Tappin, a coach who breathed fire for 32 minutes but settled into a warm embrace the moment the whistle blew, will be remembered Saturday as the architect of one of the most dominant sports dynasties in the history of the North Bay.
A trip through The Press Democrat archives unearthed a staggering stat line for the longtime Healdsburg High girls basketball coach: 12 consecutive Sonoma County League championships (more if you count his time as assistant coach), a 110-game win streak, three section championships and back-to-back trips to the state title game in 1991 and 1992.
“I thought he was one of the best coaches in the state,” said longtime Berkeley High coach and sometimes-rival Gene Nakamura. “It was getting his girls to play so danged hard.”
Tappin, who emerged from retirement in recent years to assist a former Healdsburg High standout with the team, died April 20 at his Healdsburg home after a long battle with cancer. He was 79.
Tappin stories and tales of Healdsburg’s legendary stranglehold on girls basketball will be told Saturday in the most appropriate of places: a gym. A celebration of life is planned for 1 p.m. at the St. John’s School gym in Healdsburg.
In his time, Tappin dismantled existing perceptions about girls sports and is credited with changing the landscape of girls basketball in the North Bay.
Before Harry Tappin came along, few girls teams played in summer leagues, few high school girls teams traveled to competitive tournaments and few girls coaches were videotaping games and breaking down other squads’ strategies. Top-shelf club teams? Those were for boys.
“Harry, before anyone else, went out of the area to play great teams and great players,” said Mark Rigby, who coached at Ursuline High School from 1985-95 and won a state championship in 1992 with the Bears.
And in their travels, the Hounds didn’t always win. That wasn’t the point.
“He’d fail (in order) to get better,” Rigby said.
“It was, ‘If you want to do this, let’s do it right,’” Rigby said. “He was way ahead of his time.
“There is no doubt about it, he saw the potential of girls basketball and girls athletics way before anyone else did.”
Playing a Tappin-coached team was no joke.
“He’d bite your damn legs off if he could,” said longtime Sonoma County League rival Doug Johnson of Petaluma High. “He’d try to beat your brains out, but by God if I ever needed anything, he was there.”
Rigby said anyone who walked into Healdsburg’s gym was wise to brace themselves.
“He’d trap the hell out of you in the corner. If you didn’t get it over half court, that was your problem,” he said. “It worked.”
“He’d go full court for 32 minutes,” he said. “But if you couldn’t handle it, then you needed to get yourself better.”
Tappin raced to 300 wins as head coach in just 12 seasons. And he got No. 300 on Feb. 8, 1996, against his old rival Johnson.
“They were very aggressive,” Johnson said of the Hounds. “They came out to play. They were tough. They would try to kick your fannies, no doubt about it.”
But after the game? “Hell, it was like, ‘OK, when are we going to meet again?’”