Legendary: The Debate and Forensics Coaching Career of Gary Harmon
Written by Bryce Boyd on March 10, 2021
The debate and forensics team here at Kansas Wesleyan has achieved a large number of accolades in the past several years, in fact, it’s the most successful program on campus when you look to the overall number of trophies, awards and national titles. One man is responsible for such success, Gary Harmon. He’s been the coach of the debate team on campus for over a decade, but I wanted to learn more about his life before he came here to become the head of the program. That’s what I was able to do this week when I sat down with Gary, and ask him some questions about growing up and what led to him taking the job.
Where did you grow up?
* We grew up on the Kansas side of the Oklahoma border between Manchester Oklahoma and Anthony Kansas, Anthony was where I was born because it had the hospital.
What was growing up there like?
* It was… I don’t know how to describe it, seems like it was normal. As early as I could remember I was riding with my dad, checking the cows, riding horses and hunting. That kinda stuff.
What’s the craziest thing that happened to you as a kid?
* It probably didn’t seem crazy, but during Christmas vacation, we’d get up at 5:30, my job was to milk the cows, by the time I got done mom would have a big breakfast. Then I’d have to get to basketball practice at 7:30, dad would be parked outside after with the car and we’d go hunting until 2 or 3, mom would have dinner ready and then we’d have another basketball practice. That was a typical day, might seem odd to people these days, but that’s how it was.
What was your favorite thing to do growing up?
* Hunting or riding horses. If I could do both that was great, don’t know what made that my favorite, it was just what I lived for. I remember pestering my dad asking him “are we going hunting, dad? Are we?”. I loved drinking warm milk right after it came out of the cow, still had the cream in it. I remember sticking a glass right under the strainer.
Where did you go go college?
* Went to K-State first to play football, but I broke my neck so they wouldn’t honor it. They said if I made the basketball team I could come, but I got cut. So I transferred to Sterling College and graduated from there with a major in English. My dad told me to take what classes I liked and end up with whatever degree I got, that’s how I got English.
So what led to your decision to stay in Kansas?
* I graduated, and Hutchinson Public Schools had a job teaching 9th grade English. They needed a replacement teacher so they hired me, I also ended up being the cheer sponsor because the lady I was replacing was. I wanted to stay there, and they let the teacher I was replacing for the year back, and they tried to get me a job, got another job in Wellington Kansas as the football, basketball and cross country coach. They found out that I took debate in college and wanted me to start their program after school. I got payed $100 for each program I coached, on top of my job teaching English there, my total salary my first year was $5,050, seemed like I was making enough money, thought I was rich.
When did your connection to Kansas Wesleyan/Salina begin?
* I was farming and teaching, and the farming wasn’t going well, seemed that God was telling me that I was better with kids than the farm. My wife and I made up our minds that it was time to head to a different town, and a friend of mine was a principal at Salina South, they offered my wife and I a job, and we’ve been here ever since, that was in 1984. I hosted the biggest debate tournament in the area, over 300 teams, and we didn’t have enough space so we used Kanas Wesleyan, and that got me in touch with Dr. Eric Marshall, who was the old coach here. When I retired from high school, his wife, Barbara Marshall offered me a job as the coach and head of the program at Kansas Wesleyan, and I’ve been here ever since.
Gary Harmon has led an interesting and eventful life thus far, and his stories and experiences before he came to Kansas Wesleyan have spawned many stories that you might not believe. There’s so much more to talk about when it comes to Gary’s interactions and influence here on campus, but what things were like in the decades before are a good place to start.