Go online and search “America's sport of the future,” and any number of articles related to soccer appear. With eyes firmly affixed on that future, Ken Harkenrider reflects on how he's seen the sport grow – nationally as well as in Fort Wayne – and cautions the slightest hesitation.
“Be careful what you wish for,” he said. “If you're not intentional with the way you evolve, you may end up with some things that aren't the way you intend.”
Still, the Summit City native stands proud of what he's accomplished in soccer, as a player, coach and adviser. For those contributions, Harkenrider will join Lori Lindsey, Bill Vieth Jr. and Alexander Wood in the 2020 class of the Indiana Soccer Hall of Fame, earning induction Feb. 22 at the Renaissance Hotel in Carmel.
The honor has afforded Harkenrider, the longtime athletic director at Canterbury, a retrospective view of his part in crafting soccer in northeast Indiana into its current form.
“That's probably been the coolest thing about this whole event, which is allowing me to force myself to think back,” Harkenrider said. “You chug along and you do what you do. You hang around and you step in when you need, but the opportunity to look back? You realize, 'Holy cow!'”
After spending his formative years playing at Sport Club, then suiting up for Bishop Luers' club team – the IHSAA didn't sanction soccer as an official sport until 1994, in conjunction with the United States hosting that year's World Cup – Harkenrider plied his trade for Notre Dame. As a freshman, Harkenrider earned a varsity letter with the Fighting Irish.
During his time at Notre Dame, he had plenty of battles with the vaunted Indiana University squad, which claimed two national titles during his four years in South Bend.
As Harkenrider noted, in the current day, anywhere from 50 to 70 Division I college programs could reasonably contend for the national championship. In the early '80s, the number of premier programs nationally numbered closer to 10-15 – including the Hoosiers.
“IU was ahead of that curve,” Harkenrider said. “We played them every year and that was some of their best teams. We had some good matchups against them, and it was a lot of fun.”
After graduating, Harkenrider trekked east, ultimately landing in Kearny, New Jersey, a suburb of Newark. He guided St. Benedict's while also assisting with the Kearny Scots club program, in the height of Newark's contribution to the national soccer scene.
The club featured Tab Ramos, Tony Meola and John Harkes, who each played pivotal roles in the United States' return to the World Cup in 1990, as well as Claudio Reyna, who advanced to the national team for World Cup '94.
“It was just dumb luck but it was a great place, and it was a great opportunity to learn soccer,” Harkenrider said. “I was still playing in the ethnic leagues on the East Coast, kind of a mix of what I grew up with at the Sport Club, the older ethnic guys and guys that played at Virginia, Duke, all over the country.”
After returning to Fort Wayne to coach at Luers, Harkenrider accepted the coaching job at a newly founded girls program at Canterbury. In fact, in the 1989-90 school year, he coached the Cavaliers' girls in the fall, then led the Luers boys in the spring.
From Canterbury's nine state titles between the boys and girls programs, to their years working together at the Indiana Soccer Camp under Jerry and Todd Yeagley, Harkenrider relishes this chance to reflect on where soccer has progressed, how his guiding hand has provided that steady influence, and hope others stand ready to push forward.
“That has been the other part of this whole process, looking back and realizing all the different engagements I've had with the game, as a player, as a coach at Saint Benedict's, Bishop Luers and Canterbury, as an administrator to ensure the success of other teams,” he said. “Kids today, they take for granted it's always been this way. We need to serve the purpose of letting kids know there'll be a time where there's a responsibility and they'll have to take it forward.”