Bob O’Hara came late to skiing. He was a winter camper and snowshoer when he finally tried a pair of skinny skis in the late 60’s. He joined the North Star Ski Club and skied their first VJC race. This in turn lead to many other races like the Birke, Mora, Finlandia and many races that no longer exist. In 1972 he was invited to begin a girls team at Armstrong High School. A number of the Lake Conference schools were moving into girls athletics before they were officially recognized by the MSHSL. Those were the days of wood skis, bamboo poles, and three-pin bindings.
In the 1974-75 school year he was assigned to Cooper High School, where he again began a girl’s team while coaching the boys. In those days, skiing was a sport with three events. Shortly after the girls program was recognized by the High School League, jumping was dropped from the boys and two new programs, Alpine and Cross Country were created for both Boys and Girls.
O’Hara was invited to at a winter ski clinic, which he later directed for 10 years, at the Isabella Environmental Learning Center. The clinic was called Skisabella. The five-day clinic drew 160 participants, including many state meet qualifiers and champions. A staff of 15 coaches was involved including many of the top high school coaches.
O’Hara had a girl’s State Champion in 1978 and won his boys conference in 1980. His team was one of two in the metro area in the early days to have one piece ski suits. He also became active in the coaches association along with becoming a Section Meet Mgr. O’Hara served a number of terms on the coaches’ advisory board to the MSHSL, in which he had to present the new ideas ski coaches wanted for the sport to grow. This included adding the relay. Later it involved shortening the boys races from 10 km, and increasing the girls races from 3km. He was also instrumental in increasing the number of qualifiers from each section.
During his term as President of the Nordic Ski Coaches Association, O’Hara helped rename the sport to Nordic skiing. Too often the sport was confused with Cross Country Running.
Often at Conference and Section meets, disputes and protests over rules became a real problem. O’Hara requested the MSHSL treat Nordic Skiing like other sports and provide rules meetings for the coaches. The League responded favorably to that request and in turn made Bob their head rules interpreter. Bob also helped mobilize a number of coaches who wrote a rules supplement for High School skiers to accompany the NCAA rules book being used.
O’Hara coached in Dist. 281 (Robbinsdale) from 1972-2001. He often tried to retire, but each time became an assistant coach to train a new incoming head coach. When a new coach lost their job or moved on, O’Hara would return as head coach, rather than abandon the program he built. In 2001, he was successful in retiring from Cooper only to be persuaded to join his alma mater (Benilde H.S.) and help establish a Nordic Ski program at Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
By 2002 Bob had completed 32 yrs. of coaching and was still going. In addition to helping introduce the sport to many hundreds of students, he has also contributed his management skills in running ski meets from ordinary school competitions to Conference, Section, and the State H.S. Meet.
O’Hara feels his greatest accomplishment is when he encounters former skiers who have their families out skiing on the ski trails. He is proud seeing his former skiers from the 70’s and 80’s still participating in Citizen Races. Coaching a student is only for the short term, but skiing is a lifetime sport for everyone. Coaches like Bob have made that happen for a multitude of students.