KEYSER - “Great man and coach. He got the best out of all of us.”
By Chapin Jewell
KEYSER - “Great man and coach. He got the best out of all of us.”
“Used to kick me in the (butt) every day to motivate me.”
“He pushed us to get the best out of us. That’s why the wrestling team was undefeated.”
“Very sorry to hear this news. He was actually my line coach at Potomac State.”
“He was a very intense coach, but a really good person.”
In the wake of Tom Harman’s passing, these were some of the words posted on social media describing Tom Harman the coach.
“He was such a kind man.”
“So sorry to hear this. I thought the world of him.”
“A great man.”
“He was loved by us all.”
“He left quite an impression on all of us.”
“Mr. Harman taught me Drivers Ed. He was a great guy.” “Great teacher, coach and friend. He will be missed.”
These words were posted describing Tom Harman the teacher.
“He was a good principal. Always made me smile. But the first thing I remembered was his laugh, his smile, and his (peeved) off look.”
“I loved working with Mr. Harman at Braddock Middle. Many, many wonderful memories which make me smile.”
“He was fantastic! We had absolutely silent fire drills.”
These words described Tom Harman the administrator.
The beautiful, comprehensive, and well-written obituary found in today’s edition of the Mineral News-Tribune aptly describes the life well lived of player, coach, teacher, administrator, and all-around community guy Orie Thomas (Tom) Harman.
A native of Keyser, Tom first came to prominence as an all-star player on “Tack” Clark’s state championship and state finalist teams of 1956 and 1957. Then came successful playing careers in his hometown of Keyser at Potomac State College and then in Shepherdstown at then Shepherd College.
Then came Tom’s transition from successful player to successful coach, teacher, and administrator at Bruce, Valley and Westmar high schools, Potomac State College, the Allegany County Career and Technical Center, and then finally Braddock Middle School.
While busy professionally, Tom Harman also found the time to contribute mightily in his hometown of Keyser as a member of community organizations like the Kiwanis Club and in leadership roles at the Keyser Presbyterian Church.
To say Tom Harman made the most of his time here on Earth, for those around him, and more particularly for those in his charge, is an understatement.
In Harman’s four years at Keyser High School, he was a tremendous football player, track athlete and wrestler. As a junior on “Tack” Clark’s 1956 Golden Tornado squad, Harman was a part of Keyser’s second undefeated and first state championship football team. 1956’s Black and Gold squad finished a perfect 11-0 and capped off the season with a 12-0 victory over Wyoming County’s Mullens High School at Beckley’s Woodrow Wilson High School.
Keyser’s 1957 squad, on which Harman was a senior and All-PVC first team guard, finished a near-perfect 10-1, falling only to Huntington’s Vinson High School by one point (14-13) in the state championship game held in Buckhannon.
For his efforts on the gridiron both in high school and college, and as player and coach, Harman was named to the Keyser High School’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997, and also to the Keyser High School All-Century and All-Decades teams in 2014.
Coach Harman’s nephew Craig Harman, a notable youth league coach in his own right with the Keyser Steelers of the CAYFL, said the following, “Just listening to my dad and my uncle talk, he was a terrific athlete in track, football and wrestling. He played on a state championship team his junior year and they made the championship again in his senior year but they lost. He was the team captain his senior year.”
From Keyser High School, Harman remained in Keyser where he attended and played football for Potomac State his freshman and sophomore seasons. In his time playing for another legendary coach, Dana “Horse” Lough, Harman and his Catamount teammates had an impressive 11-6-1 combined record playing a schedule comprised of many four year schools.
According to Craig Harman, “He was an all-conference linebacker and that was back when I believe they were playing in the West Virginia Conference against mostly four-year schools. In those days, they mostly tried to play local and most of their opponents were four year colleges. In fact, they played against Shepherd and he ended up going there his junior and senior seasons.”
After earning his associates degree at Potomac State, it was on to Shepherd College where Harman played for Jesse Riggleman’s Shepherd Rams in the 1960 and 1961 seasons. In that time, the Rams compiled a two-year record of 10-5. At Shepherd, Harman would play guard and linebacker and earned Associated Press Small College All-American honors, quite a way to complete his playing career.
Upon graduation, Harman was hired to teach at Bruce High School, where he assisted head coach Pete Ladygo in starting the football program at Bruce in 1962. Also while at Bruce, Harman was the head coach of the wrestling and track teams. After two years, Harman transferred to Valley High School to teach and coach. In fact, in 1964, Harman became the founding coach of Valley High School’s football program.
Harman’s time leading the Black Knights on the gridiron reached the peak of its success in 1974 when Valley won Maryland’s Class C state football championship, ironically in the first year the state of Maryland awarded state championships. Valley was the first Allegany County team to earn a football state championship.
In that 1974 season, Valley went 7-3 in the regular season, earning victories against Middletown (30-0), Northern (42-14), Beall (16-0), Moorefield (32-0), West Virginia Deaf (58-6), Hancock (48-0) and Bruce (20-8). Valley’s three regular season losses were by a combined seven points to Southern (14-12), Hampshire (12-8) and Keyser (15-14).
After finishing the regular season 7-3, Harman’s Black Knights qualified for the state semi-finals as the West Region champion. In that state semi-final game, Valley defeated Poolesville comfortably by a score of 34-12. In the state championship against Joppatowne at Hagerstown’s School Stadium, Valley defeated the Mariners, again comfortably, by a score of 32-14 to finish the season 9-3 and as state champs.
After that state championship season of 1974, Harman continued as head coach for the 1975 and 1976 seasons before turning over the reins to Jack Gilmore, who would go on to become a coaching legend in his own right. Gilmore’s 1977 Valley squad would go on to win the Black Knights’ second and last state football championship.
“I used to go with my grandad if Keyser was playing away and Valley was playing up in George’s Creek we would go up and watch. I know they were always competitive. I know for several years he had Allegany on his schedule and he beat them once or twice. He had some good teams, and a state championship team with some really good athletes,” Craig Harman stated.
There were four freshmen on the field or sidelines for Valley in the state championship game in 1974 that would go on to play in and win the 1977 state championship as well. One of those four players is Michael Foote, who took to social media immediately after hearing of Tom Harman’s death to laud praises and honor a man he viewed as not just a coach, but also a mentor and second father.
“My thoughts on coach, as I told his wife on the telephone on Friday, it was a love/hate relationship. Tom would push us to the brink. He was hard, but fair. It didn’t matter to him if you came from a rich family or were popular, the best players played,” Foote explained. “He demanded your full attention at all times, and you had to be focused. If you weren’t, he would make you run gassers. He tore us down and built us back up.”
According to Foote, “He knew which players he could use and yell at to motivate others. He could read us very well and got the best out of us with his motivational tools. He had a great love of the sport and loved his own coach Fred “Tack” Clark. He instilled the never quit attitude in all of us. Besides my father, he and Jack Gilmore were the most influential men in my life.”
Foote revealed that after returning to Valley High School after winning the state championship game in 1974, Harman asked the four freshmen to stay behind for a few minutes before going home to fold and put away the foul weather capes that were taken for players not in the game.
According to Foote, these were the words he uttered to the freshmen; words that hit their mark on the four who would be team leaders four years later as seniors on the 1977 state championship team: “There is a method to the madness, and you guys just saw what can happen when everyone buys into team only.”
After giving up the football coaching job at Valley, Harman went on to coach the offensive line for five years at Potomac State College for Cecil Perkins. According to Craig Harman, “That’s when they had some pretty good teams and played in the Coastal Conference. Potomac State in those days had a great football program, and he was interested in kicking it up a notch.”
Harman would go on to be inducted into the Potomac State College Athletic Hall of Fame for his efforts as a player and coach.
If he wasn’t coaching, in his free time Tom Harman was following his beloved West Virginia Mountaineers. He was a season ticket holder for years and for years and years he and his wife accompanied Coach Tom O’Connor and his wife to Mountaineer games, even traveling to bowl games.
When Craig Harman took over the Keyser Steelers in 1987, a few years later he found himself the beneficiary of some help from his uncle Tom, “He would come out in the mid-90s when we were putting in the Wing T. It was new to us because that’s what Keyser was doing and we had no clue about it. Tom Preaskorn fixed us up a playbook and gave it to us. He (Tom Harman) was familiar with it and he came out and helped the young kids for many evenings. He could be pretty demanding but he knew his stuff. As a coach, he was tough.
“He was a good guy. He was always looking out to help somebody, I think that’s what was always on his mind. He was in the Kiwanis Club and active in his church and he looked out for everybody, that’s just the way he was,” Craig Harman stated.
Tom Harman was a man’s man, a coach’s coach, a teacher’s teacher and a principal’s principal. He gave his all in all he did, making his mark on the field and in the classroom, even if that classroom was a driver’s education car. He leaves behind a legacy at his own beloved Keyser High School, Potomac State College, Shepherd College, Bruce High School, Valley High School. Allegany’s Career and Technical Center and Braddock Middle School.
In addition, he made his community and those around him better for all his efforts. As evidenced by the flood of positive comments made in the wake of his death, Tom Harman will be missed.