Balancing classroom, playing field a must for Lady Scot star

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Dyslexia once came with a stigma.

But that was before Sir Richard Branson took Virgin Airlines global, Charles Schwab built an $800 billion securities firm, Tommy Hilfiger became one of the fashion industries biggest names and crusader Erin Brokovich took on a California power company poisoning the local water, inspiring a movie that won Julia Roberts an Oscar.

Sarah Harmon just wants to be a teacher.

"She said, ‘I’m not going to let this be a problem for others,’" Nancy Harmon, Sarah’s mom, said.

Harmon is on pace to eclipse all Maryville College records for scoring in two years time. The sophomore midfielder has recorded a Lady Scot-best 22 goals this fall. Only two others — former Lady Scot All-American Julie Dingels (23) and school-record holder Jennifer Windrow (24) — have found the netting for more in a season at Maryville.

With 14 goals a year ago, the athletic 5-foot-8 Harmon has Windrow’s career mark of 70 within her sights as well.

Harmon, who also owns the school’s single-season record for assists, bristles when asked to talk about what she’s done on a soccer field. She gets that from her dad, Walter.

"He’s always said, ‘You’re a student before you’re athlete,’" she said.

They’re words Harmon has lived by since she was first diagnosed with dyslexia as a third-grader.

The learning disability, while having no effect on cognitive skills, can result in difficulties in word recognition, reading comprehension, vocabulary and grammar. Sarah was always outgoing as a child, Nancy Harmon said. When she started having in trouble in school, they had her tested.

"She has worked really hard all her life," Nancy Harmon said. "It’s been an uphill battle for her."

Long hours of study followed the diagnosis. She was determined not to let the disability limit her, Harmon said. By her senior
year at McIntosh High School in Peachtree City, Ga., she’d not only helped her school’s soccer team to a national
championship, she’d become a star in the classroom as well.

When she entered Maryville as a freshman a year ago, it was on an academic scholarship.

Success in the classroom still doesn’t come easy, she said. Maryville is rated one of the nation’s most prestigious and stringent liberal arts colleges. The Lady Scots, along with three consecutive NCAA tournament berths and 58-match conference unbeaten streak, are one of the school’s most accomplished teams academically, having won 11 consecutive national academic awards.

"Everyone else will study for an hour," Harmon said. "I’ll study for three."

Thankfully, she said, there’s soccer.

"Being an athlete has helped me more than anything," the Great South Athletic Conference Player of the Year said. "I’ll have a ton of homework and papers to write, and I’ll come out here (for practice or a match) and just relax."

Lady Scots coach Pepe Fernandez first learned of Harmon when assistant coach Jon Baker worked a camp with Maryville alum Brian Moore one summer. Moore, a former professional player, was coach of Harmon’s club team at the time. When Baker returned with a highlight tape of Harmon, Fernandez was hooked.

"She was coming from an unbelievable coach," Fernandez said. "Baker got to see her play down there, and we knew we wanted her."

And how!

"I got hundreds of e-mails from him," Harmon said. "He came at me pretty hard."

It was obvious Harmon was a rare talent, Fernandez said. She had exceptional size and speed. She could strike the ball equally well with either foot. Her technique was "really good," Baker said.

She was tenacious over the ball.

It took mere minutes for Harmon to prove each of those assessments accurate in her first appearance in a Maryville uniform.

"She came off the bench, and it took her like three minutes to score a goal," Fernandez said.

There was never a question of whether she could make it academically at Maryville, Harmon said. The support system at
the school, she said, is second none.

"Dr. (Daniel) Pierce and Dr. Davis have been there for me 100 percent," Harmon said.

Fernandez was counting on it.

"One thing in recruiting is you know Maryville is not easy," he said, "but the support they get here is great. Even a kid that struggles is going to get all the help they need."

Maryville will host Methodist College in an NCAA tournament opener on Saturday. It’s the second time in three seasons the Lady Scots have played host to the national event. It’s a significant moment for the program, Fernandez said.

"The girls have talked about making a run in the NCAA tournament," he said. "It’s nice to be in that position as a program (to host), but we need to back it up.

"It’s always been a case of we’re happy to get there. Hopefully, we’ve moved beyond that point."

On the long, tough road to become Maryville’s leader, Harmon has already moved beyond a great deal more.

  • The following individuals have overcome the learning disability dyslexia to make substantial contributions to society.
    Ann Bancroft
    David Boies
    Erin Brokovich
    Whoopi Goldberg
    Sir Richard Branson
    Danny Glover
    Bruce Jenner
    Greg Louganis
    Rob Lowe
    Nolan Ryan

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