by Tom Pedulla –
It is no coincidence that Irvington’s Abigail Conklin and Nikki May describe assistant girls’ basketball coach Barbara Constantine the same way, calling her a “second mom.” The term fits.
Constantine, 46, has played an integral role in the perennial success of the program as she begins her 17th season as Gina Maher’s assistant, helping players off the court as much as she does on it.
“She’s always here for us,” Conklin said. “We can talk to her about anything.”
“She’s not only our coach. She helps us with all of the other things that go on because we spend so much time together,” May said.
Teenage years are not easy; Constantine makes them less confusing.
She knows what it is to play for the caring but hard-driving Maher. She made a major contribution as a shooting guard when Irvington won the first of six state championships under Maher, in 1989-1990. She graduated in 1991 and went on to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, playing with such distinction that she was recently selected as part of the college’s first Hall of Fame class.
Constantine maintains a demanding schedule but still finds a way to be there as a confidante to Maher and to members of the team.
“She is an amazing person,” said junior center Grace Thybulle. “We would not be as successful without her and the kind of person she is and what she contributes to our team culture.”
Constantine somehow balances her work as a physical therapist, family life and the needs of a team that amounts to her second family.
“It is quite a juggling act,” she said. She and her husband, Mark, have three children. Abigail is 14, Jacob, 13, and Lucas, 9.
Constantine cited family considerations as one reason she has been content being an assistant for so long without wanting to direct her own program.
“I would like to be Gina’s assistant forever, as long as I can be. There is no one more dedicated than her. From A to Z, she does it all,” she said. “I don’t feel I have time at this point in my life to run a program to the expectations I would have, which would be something similar to what Gina does.”
Maher, in her 44th season, and Constantine could not complement each other any better than they do.
“I don’t know what I would do without her. I really, really don’t,” Maher said. “She has a great basketball IQ. She loves the game. She loves the girls. She is a great role model. She takes pride in everything she’s accomplished and people see what hard work will do. She is the epitome of what you would want your daughter to be.”
Maher and Constantine balance each other.
“It is a bit of a good cop, bad cop tandem that we’ve got going,” Constantine said. “And, believe me, she is the bad cop.”
When weary players believe a certain sprint is one too many after practice, they will appeal to Constantine. She appeals to Maher, who typically relents.
Maher constantly looks to her top assistant as a sounding board during the ebb and flow of a game, frequently asking her whether a change of defenses is in order or what the next substitution should be.
When Maher wants to implement something during a practice, she often has Constantine join the scrimmage so players can see exactly what she wants. They quickly find that the assistant coach who is easily old enough to be their mother has still got game.