Family Ties

(Staff Photo)

Family is the most important thing in the world. – Princess Diana

After a successful softball season in the fall, in which Walnut Grove finished 19-8 and won a District title, the Lady Tigers (24-6) made a run to the state quarterfinals on the hardwood before bowing out with a loss to defending state champion Montrose. It is not unusual for a school—particularly a Class 1 school—to have a couple of relatives playing on the same team. However, it is almost unheard of to have five members of one family playing together at the same time. It is even more unlikely that all five relatives have the talent to compete at a high level, which is what Walnut Grove has had at its disposal this year in the form of five members of the Harman family—all five of which were significant contributors to the Lady Tigers’ success on the diamond and the court this season.

Deciphering who is related to whom and how they are related can get confusing—at least to an outsider. Hannah Harman is a senior—and a multi-sport standout. After breaking the state record for career strikeouts in the fall, Hannah followed that up with her second straight All-State performance on the basketball court. Heather Harman, a freshman, is Hannah’s younger sister who also received All-State recognition this season as the Lady Tigers’ point guard. Hannah and Heather are the middle two of Russ and Dawn Harman’s four daughters.

Haley Harman is a senior who garnered 1st-Team All-Polk County League recognition this season in basketball. Lexi Harman, a freshman, is Haley’s younger sister who received 2nd-Team All-PCL recognition in basketball despite playing virtually the entire season with a torn ACL. Haley and Lexi are the daughters of Gene and Lynn Harman. Cheyenne Harman is a junior who made major contributions despite playing throughout the season with a nagging turf toe injury. She is the oldest of Marty and Tena Harman’s two daughters.

The Harman family has deep roots in Walnut Grove, and has resided in the community for generations. With multiple branches from the same family tree, it probably should not be a surprise that the high school careers of five family members coincided with one another. Regardless, it has been a year that these five girls have looked forward to for a long time.

“We’ve looked forward to this year for as long as we can remember,” said Cheyenne. “We’ve looked forward to this year for a long time,” echoed Haley. “We would just count down the days until we could all play together.”

Cousins by blood – friends by choice. – Darlene Shaw

Marty and Gene are brothers, and Russ is the brothers’ first cousin. Therefore, that makes Haley and Lexi first cousins with Cheyenne. It also means that, technically, Cheyenne, Haley and Lexi are all third cousins with Hannah and Heather. However, the girls prefer to just be called friends rather than dealing with all the technical “Where Did I Come From?” family tree branches.

“We’re all really close, because we’ve grown up together,” said Cheyenne. “All of us became best friends,” said Haley. “You have to be when you’re with them every day. You have to learn to like each other.” Due to their ages, Hannah and Haley have been friends seemingly forever, with the freshmen, Heather and Lexi, also closer to each other than they are with the others.

“We were always close, but I guess you could say this season has brought us closer together,” said Lexi. “The coolest thing is that the girls have bonded together,” said Tena. “They’re closer than they’ve ever been before. They’ve always played together, but never on the same team at the same time. As they get older and have kids themselves, it will be neat that they have that bond they can share.”

Haley Harman (Staff Photo)

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out. – John Wooden

The Harman girls had been looking forward to this season—particularly on the basketball court—for a long time, and had often talked about the opportunity for all of them to play for the same team. Hannah would anchor the post, while Haley would be free to roam inside and out. Cheyenne, a two-year starter, would also be another inside-out threat. Add to that the contributions of a pair of cat quick incoming freshmen guards in Heather and Lexi and it would be easy to fantasize about numerous wins and deep runs in March—with a lot of fun along the way.

However, things do not always go according to plan, as the team—and the family—faced adversity at the beginning of the season. Cheyenne suffered a turf toe injury in December which kept her out of action for over a month. Although she played through the rest of the season, she was never fully healthy. “It’s been a great year,” said Tena Harman. “They’ve been looking forward to this year for a while. It was a little disappointing, though, with all the injuries.”

Lexi suffered a torn ACL in the Walnut Grove holiday tournament. She played the rest of the game with the injury, but her return to action was doubtful after tests confirmed the worst. Her big sister, Haley, had previously suffered the same injury. After learning that she could not do any further injury to the knee, Lexi postponed surgery and returned to action to finish the season. “We knew what was in store,” said Lynn Harman of Lexi’s injury. “She’s a tough cookie, though. We talked to the surgeons and got a brace made. She went back out there and played.”

Lexi returned to action, but was not nearly as fast as she had been. “It didn’t hurt that bad,” said Lexi. “I kind of learned what I could do and what I couldn’t do on it. I was definitely a lot slower afterwards.”

“When we were all healthy to start the season, it was a sight to see,” said head coach Rory Henry. “Lexi’s a game-changer when she’s healthy. When we first learned that it was a torn ACL, I was just sick. It was emotional for all of us when I told the team.

“The loss of both Lexi and Cheyenne changed the speed of our team defense,” said Henry, adding that Megan Shuler also suffered an injury. “We had all these things going for us. Both girls came back, but they were not at 100 percent. We were playing our best basketball at the end of the season, which is what we wanted, but you still play the ‘what if?’ game.”

“It killed her and it killed us. I didn’t want to think the worst,” said Haley of her sister’s injury. “She played with a torn ACL, and I still don’t know how that worked. It did slow her down some, but she’s determined. She would have always wondered what she missed if she hadn’t played. The rest of us just had to pick up the slack.”

“It was amazing and a lot of fun,” said Lexi. “It was probably the most fun I’ve had playing basketball in my career. And I got to play with my sister.”

To be a team, you must be a family. – Don Meyer

“The whole team was like a family,” said Lexi. It did not matter if your last name was Harman or not, if you were a member of the Lady Tigers, then you were a member of a family. “Yeah, we’re all related, but we’re best friends, too…all of us—not just the Harmans,” said Haley. “The whole team is a family.”

Walnut Grove is like a lot of other small towns and communities in the Ozarks, meaning that everyone pretty much knows everyone else. It also means that you are likely to have the same classmates in your graduating class that you had in kindergarten. Having grown up together, it was easy for the Harmans and their teammates to form lasting friendships over the years.

Even though the Lady Tigers—Harmans and non-Harmans alike—knew each other, though, that did not stop the team from becoming a “family” through various team bonding activities. “We have our team bonding time,” said junior Karlie Koenemann, who was one of the team’s key contributors off the bench this season. “We usually go to Hannah’s house to watch movies during the season. We try to keep everyone together.”

“Team bonding was everyone’s idea,” said Lexi. “We usually hang out at someone’s house, or go to movies together.” The team bonding worked, as it was easy to see by fans and observers alike that the Lady Tigers were a close-knit bunch.

“They have so much fun together,” said Lynn. “They’re best friends, but they can be brutally honest with each other.” “They just have great chemistry together,” said Gene.

Heather Harman (Staff Photo)

If the family were a fruit, it would be an orange, a circle of sections, held together but separable—each segment distinct.  Letty Cottin Pogrebin

The Harman girls may be related, but that does not mean that they do not all have distinctly different personalities. In fact, the girls’ differing personalities complement each other well. “We all balance each other out,” said Hannah. “Between the five of us, there’s never really a dull moment, that’s for sure.” The girls all have “great personalities,” according to Henry. “It’s always fun and they’re always laughing,” he said. “I don’t see these girls having too many bad days.”

“They’re all different, but they complement each other well,” said Russ. “They’re all almost like sisters. You’d think they’d outgrow it, but they haven’t.”

“They all have great personalities,” said Koenemann. “They have a lot of energy…maybe too much.” Heather is the “class clown,” according to Koenemann, who made sure to tell the infamous “cat story.” Apparently, during one of the team bonding nights, Heather crawled on all fours in to the kitchen, meowing the whole way, in an attempt to get the family cat to run into a wall. “I guess you had to be there,” said Koenemann. “Heather is something else,” said Hannah of her little sister. “She’s hilarious. She’s pretty hard-headed, but I love her.” According to her mom, Heather is a sponge for new information, regardless of how insightful or irrelevant it may be. “She’ll come in all the time and say, ‘Mom and Dad, did you know…?’ and spout off some random fact,” said Dawn. “She’s something else. Everything’s a crack up with her. Everything’s a funny. She wears her emotions on her sleeve. You never have to wonder what she is thinking or feeling, because it’s written all over her face. She’s her own worst enemy in that way.”

Lexi is “sweet as she can be,” according to Hannah. “She’s so nice.” Heather thinks the world of her classmate, cousin, and friend. “She’s my best friend,” said Heather. “She’s hilarious and so full of energy.” Heather and Lexi are virtually inseparable. “Heather and Lexi are always together,” said Dawn. “Everything’s funny to those two. They’re always laughing about something.” When the two are not together, “it’s like Heather is missing her other half,” said Russ. “Those two are crazy,” said Hannah of the Heather-Lexi tandem. “It’s always Heather and Lexi.” The games in which Lexi was out with the knee injury were particularly painful for Heather. “The few games we didn’t have Lexi, Heather was lost,” said Russ. “Lexi was her comfort blanket.”

Cheyenne “is the most random person,” said Hannah. “She is full of useless facts and random information. She is constantly walking into the locker room and telling everyone the ‘Fact of the Day.’ She’s like, ‘Guys, wanna hear this?’ ‘Sure, Cheyenne, what is it?’” Cheyenne is also unofficially in charge of providing background music at practice. “She always got in trouble for unedited versions,” said Heather. “She’s not as crazy as me and Lexi, but she’s funny and a lot of fun to be around.”

Haley is the mother hen of the group. “She’s such a mom to all of us,” said Heather. “She controls us and keeps us in line. She can have fun too, though, but she’s such a party pooper.” Haley defended herself by countering with, “I’m not a party pooper…I’m just smart.” Regardless of whether or not she “controls” the others, the family ties go much deeper between Haley and Hannah. “Haley is not just my cousin, she’s my best friend,” said Hannah. “She’s the Mom of us all, though.”

Hannah is the tender-hearted member of the group. “She has the biggest heart of any person ever,” said Dawn of her daughter. Hannah is also as unassuming as they come, not wanting anyone to publicize her gaudy athletic statistics. “For Senior Night, Hannah had to fill out a sheet and list all of her accomplishments,” said Russ. “She only wanted to put a couple of things on there. I told her that she had earned everything that she had accomplished and that she should list everything, but in her eyes, she thinks she’s bragging.”

The late Larry Hazelrigg, a longtime reporter for the Springfield News-Leader, called Hannah “The Invisible Pitcher” on the mound, because you could never tell if things were going well or not by the expression on her face. “She never wanted to show anyone up by celebrating on the mound,” said Dawn. “She doesn’t want anyone making a big deal out of her,” said Russ.

Hannah is the best all-around athlete of the bunch, but she also bears the brunt of the others’ jokes. “She definitely should have been born a blonde,” said Haley of her cousin and friend. “I don’t think she’s all there,” said Heather of her sister. “She makes it easy to make fun of her.” Hannah cannot even get any love from her mother on the matter. “We call her ‘The Blonde,’ because you can tell her something, and she’ll say ‘Really?,’” said Dawn. “She’s so gullible.”

One story sums up Hannah’s personality about as well as any other, and there are certainly many to choose from. The Lady Tigers have a play which entails Hannah to cut toward the ball and yell, “Ball, Ball, Ball.” Even though Walnut Grove has ran the play for years, Hannah still does not know the name of it. Whenever the play is called by Henry, “Hannah just looks at me with this confused look, and I say, “it’s the ball-ball-ball play,’” said Haley. “That is so embarrassing,” laughed Hannah. “I’m really ditzy. I can’t remember the name of that play to save my life. To me, it’s just the ‘ball-ball-ball play.’”

Those who wish to sing always find a song. – Proverb

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretsky

“Hannah thinks she’s a good singer, too,” added Heather to the Hannah anecdote-fest. “She always, like, ‘Every time I go on long road trips, I practice my singing. Heather, I’m getting really good.’ She’s terrible. She never sings any song right. She always gets the words wrong.” Hannah is not the only potential American Idol contestant on the team, though. “We sing a lot,” said Hannah. “Heather and Lexi will sing the whole way on bus trips.”

Although she is an All-State player in both softball and basketball, according to Heather and Lexi, her volleyball skills are lacking. “She thinks she’s great at volleyball,” laughs Heather. “She’s terrible.” Lexi recalls Hannah telling her, “I really love volleyball. Do you think if college basketball doesn’t work out, I could get a volleyball scholarship?” Heather told her, bluntly as only a sister can, “Hannah…you (stink) at volleyball.”

The team likes to recite quotes—inspirational, motivational, and otherwise. Cheyenne recalls Hannah attempting to recite a pretty famous quote, but butchering it in typically humorous Hannah fashion. “She said, ‘You always make 100% of the shots you don’t take,’” said Cheyenne.

Heather, the team’s point guard, knows where to get the bread buttered, though. “On the court, she’s a beast,” said Heather. “No one can stop her. I did feed her a lot.”

Cheyenne Harman (Staff Photo)

Basketball is like photography, if you don’t focus, all you have is the negative. – Dan Frisby

Road trips to away games for the Lady Tigers usually evolved into a travelling comedy caravan—at least on the trip back home. “We have a ‘no cell phone policy’ on road trips,” said Henry. “I try to tell the team to be focused to games and on the way back. We usually have no problems on the way to a game, because the girls know they have a job to do, but after the game—on the way back—it can get quite loud on the bus. I don’t even try to go to the back of the bus. Usually, I can’t even understand what they’re saying because they’re laughing so much.”

The team brought a special “friend” along for the bus rides this year. On the way to road games, Jasmine—a doll that came from a McDonald’s Happy Meal—was tied on a string, thrown out the bus window and dragged along the ground, a la Napoleon Dynamite. Jasmine survived the ordeal, but is in need of some “plastic” surgery.

What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player. – John Wooden

The Harman girls are a fun-loving bunch and really talented athletes, but more importantly, they are good people. “I’m most proud of the girls’ attitudes,” said Lynn. “It’s not just their athletic ability, but they’re such good kids. They are great role models for future Lady Tigers. They’ve shown the community what it’s like to be part of a team.”

“All of these girls—the entire team—are just great kids,” said Henry. “You never have to worry about what these kids’ intentions are. They’re some of the best kids I’ve ever been around. It’s been a joy to coach these girls. They work hard and have some of the best work ethic I’ve ever seen.”

Nell Harman, the girls’ grandmother, passed away in Oct. 2009, but before her passing, she imparted some wisdom onto the Harman girls. “She taught the girls what a name means, and how that your behavior reflects on your name,” said Tena. “Your name follows you wherever you go. She told them that they have a name that they should want to live up to, and be proud of, and a name that the community can be proud of.

“They’re good kids,” added Tena. “They’re good leaders and an amazing group of girls. They don’t make it about them. We’re proud of the girls. Wherever they go and whatever they do, they are always trying to excel in whatever they do.”

You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. – Frank Bunce, “So Young a Body”

All of the Harman girls could be described—at least by their parents—as outdoorsy tomboys at heart. “They’re not prissy girls by any means,” said Tena. “Cheyenne’s probably the prissiest of the group, and she’s always playing in the mud, farming and building fences. She even welds.”

“Hannah loves to hunt and fish,” said Russ. “Her grandpa said that she rode on a tractor more growing up than most men. Heather and Lexi can go either way. They can go from tomboys to doing more girly things. When the girls started turning into girls, it was hard on me and the other dads.” Dawn added: “All the girls ride around in the truck and feed cows. They ride tractors and they’ve picked rocks and hauled hay.”

“We always ride four-wheelers,” said Heather. “We go mudding and jump over stuff. One time, we ran out of gas four fields back and had to push the four-wheeler back while it was raining. And it didn’t even rain out our softball game. I was so mad!”

Hannah Harman (Staff Photo)

Families are like fudge—mostly sweet with a few nuts – Author Unknown

The Harman family has gathered for family reunions on a semi-regular basis over the years, and as one might imagine, when the Harman girls got together, hilarity and horseplay ensued. “Family stuff’s always fun,” said Cheyenne, with great understatement. “You don’t get to talk much, that’s for sure,” said Gene.

Not surprisingly, family reunions usually resulted in some competitive basketball games, though not so much anymore. “We used to play basketball, but now we just sit there and text and talk…you know, do girl stuff,” said Heather. However, the younger Harmans are confident of the outcome in a hypothetical two-on-two match-up with the older Harmans. Said Lexi: “If me and Heather played Hannah and Haley, we would win. Period.” Heather added, “We would win, no doubt. End of discussion.”

Basketball was not the only activity that engaged the girls at family reunions. A lot of families may have sack races or three-legged races, but that’s not the Harmans’ style. Instead, they would engage in trash can races, which featured Heather and Lexi riding in trash cans on wheels while Hannah and Haley pushed them. “That got a little crazy at times,” said Lexi.

If you don't understand how a woman could both love her sister dearly and want to wring her neck at the same time, then you were probably an only child. – Linda Sunshine

Cheyenne, Haley, Hannah, Heather, and Lexi will not be the last batch of Harmans to attend Walnut Grove High School, as there are a couple of younger Harmans on the way. Shelby Harman, Cheyenne’s younger sister, is currently in seventh grade, while Bayley Harman, Hannah and Heather’s little sister, is in fifth grade. Both served as managers for the basketball team this winter.

“They’re good managers, I guess,” said Heather begrudgingly. “Bayley’s obnoxious…she’s so annoying. I would argue with her about her managing skills, so we would fight a lot.” Said Cheyenne: “They’re always right in the middle of everything. We go a little harder on them, because they’re little sisters.”

The youngest Harmans relished the experience, though. “I think it’s awesome that they all got to play together,” said Bayley, who is a spitting image of Heather. “They’ve taught me so much about playing hard and never giving up. I’m just very proud of them.”

“I’ve been looking forward to it,” said Shelby. “They always made me laugh. They were always there for us, kind of since we were little. They’re great role models.” Shelby added that she wishes she “could ball like Hannah.”

“We probably got a little snippy with them, but it was easy to get on them because of them being little sisters,” said Hannah. “I’m the senior now, so it’s nice.” Hannah recalls being in the same position as Shelby and Bayley not too long ago, though, and idolizing Abby Creed and Emily Simpson, key cogs for the Lady Tigers’ 2007 state championship team. Hannah and Haley both served as managers on that team. “Me and Haley lived and breathed Abby and Emily,” said Hannah.      

The name on the front of the jersey is what really matters, not the name on the back. – Joe Paterno

With all of the hoopla surrounding the team this season—and particularly the large number of Harmans on it—it would have been easy for internal frictions to develop over the publicity surrounding the Harmans, which included TV and radio appearances and promos and various newspaper articles (and now, a magazine article). However, to all the girls, this has never been about the Harmans, but about Walnut Grove.

Following the team’s District championship in basketball, T-shirts were printed with the usual “Walnut Grove…2011 District Champions” on the front, along with each player’s name on the back. Emblazoned across the back of the shirt was, “It’s About the Name on the Front…Not the Names on the Back.”

Henry wanted to squash any potential friction before it began. “I stressed to everyone early on that we were a team,” he said. “On one hand, we had a special situation in that we had five members of one family on the team. We didn’t want any distractions, but we also didn’t want to take anything away from them (the Harmans) either.

Lexi Harman (Staff Photo)

“We made a big deal about us being one team,” he added. “We stressed team unity. Our team motto was: ‘When you give yourself up to something that is greater than yourself, it’s the greatest power in life.’ All the girls bought into that philosophy and that contributed to our success.”

“At the beginning of the season, with all the radio and TV publicity, it would have been easy for there to be problems, I guess,” said Haley, “but we don’t play selfish ball. It’s not ‘the Harmans have to do this or that,’ it’s ‘Heather needs to do this and Lexi needs to do that’ to be successful. We don’t pay attention to last names on the team.”

“The other girls never said anything,” said Hannah of any perceived issues, “and we didn’t act that way toward them, like we were better or anything. We never had any problems with that.”

“I never heard anyone talk about it being ‘the Harman girls,’” said Lynn. “Everyone was always rooting for each other.”

Friends are the most important part of your life. Treasure the tears, treasure the laughter, but most importantly, treasure the memories. – Dave Brenner

The year that they had all looked forward to for so long is nearing an end, with Hannah and Haley heading off to college in the fall. Hannah signed a National Letter of Intent on Mar. 25 to play basketball at College of the Ozarks, while Haley is bound for Southwest Baptist University to study nursing.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Hannah. “We accomplished a lot, both as individuals and as a team. I knew it would be fun and exciting, but it was the most fun I’ve had, by far, in any sport.”

“When I came off the floor for the last time (against Montrose in the state quarterfinals), that’s when it really hit me,” said Haley. “Then my sister hugged me and that’s when the waterworks started. It’s all her fault. I’ll always cherish the memories.”

The wish of “one more year together” is a common one these days in the Harman family. “It was a fun experience, but I wish we had one more year,” said Heather, a sentiment echoed by her mother. “I wish we would have had one more year,” said Dawn. “Things would have been totally different if Lexi and Cheyenne had not gotten hurt. It’s been a lot of fun, and something you don’t want to see end.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time and driven a lot of miles up and down the road playing ball,” said Russ. “There’d be times we’d be in two different states at the same time. It was divide and conquer. Gene and Lynn would take Lexi and Heather, and we’d take Hannah and Haley. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

“They were a fun group, and a fun group to watch,” said Lynn.

Originally published in the April 2011 issue of Ozark Preps Illustrated.

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