Jerald Harter has been at it, coaching and teaching that is, for 24 years.
He’s coached about everything there is to coach in the high school sports world, he’s a veritable jack of all trades — except basketball, don’t ask him to coach basketball though, he’s not interested.
But football? He’s coached it. Softball? Coached it. Track and field? Coached it. Volleyball? See past three answers.
Yet, as a teacher, the current Cardinal High softball and boys track and field coach has stuck to science.
“I love to cut stuff up,” said Harter, a 1980 Ottumwa high graduate, who now lives in Hedrick. “You bring something in, we’re going to dissect it, tear it up and look at the insides of it. I love biology ... I love biology and anatomy.”
And Harter has harnessed this love and applied it to a teaching style that has caught the attention of people at both Cardinal — where he has taught for the last two years — and Moravia High School, where he taught the 22 years prior to his move to Cardinal.
Joel Pedersen, superintendent of the Cardinal Community School District, said he, along with one of Harter’s colleagues at the high school, a parent, a student and Moravia High Principal Kathy Carr all recommended the long-time science teacher for the Iowa Teacher of the Year Award. The award is sponsored by the Iowa Department of Education and, according to the department’s website, the winner of this prestigious award may serve as the Iowa Ambassador to Education, acting as a education liason to primary and secondary schools in the state.
Harter said if he wins he would have to take a year hiatus from teaching at Cardinal in 2013. The veteran coach said he thinks the winner will be announced in fall.
While not too comfortable with attention of any sort, Harter said it’s an honor to be put on the same pedestal with some of the best teachers in the state.
“He’s just a great guy,” Pedersen said. “He’s probably here at this school more than anybody, whether it be teaching, coaching or volunteering. His quality of science instruction is really high quality.”
Though Harter has coached a number of different sports, the one sport he never expected to coach was volleyball. How he came to coach is a boon for believers in a serendipitous world.
It was two weeks before volleyball season and Harter was in his second year as a science teacher at Moravia High School when he was approached by then principal Rick Probasco, who informed him that a teacher had just quit. Since the teacher who quit taught math, not science, Harter didn’t see what this had to do with him.
“You don’t need me because I teach science and she was a math teacher,” Harter recalled telling Probasco.
But Harter was informed that the school didn’t need a math teacher, it needed a volleyball coach.
“You don’t want me coaching volleyball,” Harter said, “I have no idea what volleyball’s even about.”
Yet, despite his lack of knowledge about the sport, not wanting to upset his principal, Harter accepted the job and got to work trying to soak up all the knowledge he could about the sport of volleyball.
“I called a girl I knew down in Kirksville, Mo., where I went to college; that was a volleyball coach of the college down there and said I’m coaching volleyball at Moravia,” he said. “She said ‘junior high,’ and I said ‘No, I’m going to be the only volleyball coach at the high school,’ and to this day I still remember her laughing at me on the phone because she knew how bad I played when we tried to play intramurals.”
Despite having to digest a reservoir of knowledge in a short timespan, Harter managed to get through his first year coaching and he has remained a volleyball coach ever since. Ironically, volleyball is now the one sport the Comets’ coach sees himself still doing after he retires from teaching. One reason for this is because his desire to take a volleyball team to a state championship — a goal he has yet to accomplish — has not been sated.
“I never like to leave something unfinished,” Harter said.
Harter returned to coaching softball this summer for the first time since 1992, when the coach the previous season decided not to come back shortly before the season started. Despite his long hiatus from the game, Harter said he was cognizant of the many new developments in the sport because of his umpiring duties — he umpired softball and baseball games for 15 years up until this summer. The Comets finished this season with a respectable 24-16 record and were one win away from qualifying for the Class 2A State tournament.
Harter said many similarities exist between coaching and teaching.
“You start with a product that is very raw and in four years you see what can be produced,” he said about the two crafts he practices.
Teaching-wise, Harter believes every student that comes through his door each school day has something to offer the world.
“I think every student is good at something,” he said. “It’s our jobs as teachers to find out what that is. Then that kid’s going to have success. It may be art, it may be out in the shop welding, but we have to get students to find that one niche that they love and then they will have success in life. But if you give up on them too soon they are never going to get it.”
Sports-wise, the situation is much the same, Harter said.
“You never know when an athlete is going to mature,” he said.
Using himself as an example, Harter talked about how he only won three wrestling matches his junior year before turning things around and winning 26 matches as a senior.
His wrestling skills earned him a wrestling scholarship at Northeast Missouri State University, today Truman State University; which was far removed from the fate that would have awaited Harter if he hadn’t made such great strides on the wrestling mat.
“I would have been a Marine, because my father was a Marine and if it was good enough for my father to be a Marine I was going to be a Marine,” he said.
When he’s not coaching or teaching, Harter likes to do anything outdoors whether it be hunting, fishing or working on his dad’s farm. He was introduced to the outdoor life at a young age when he traveled from his parent’s home in Ottumwa to visit his grandparents who owned a farm north of town. At one point in his life, Harter even considered being a park ranger.
Harter and his wife Karen have a 26-year old daughter named Chelsea and a nine-year old son named Christopher who performed bat boy duties for the Comets’ softball team this season.
Jerald Harter has been at it, coaching and teaching that is, for 24 years.
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