Previously published in the 2017 Ouachitonian yearbook.
Benson-Williams Field, Cliff Harris Stadium, the practice field, Crews Athletic Pavilion, Blackmon-Benson Fieldhouse–Taylor Harper, a freshman elementary education major from Mena, spent every summer since sixth grade in these places with the football team.
Harper, however, was not a player; she was a manager for her father’s football teams, dreaming of managing for the Ouachita Tigers one day.
Harper came from a very football-oriented family. Her father, head coach of the Mena Bearcats, had been a head coach for 13 years, but had coached for over 20 years.
“I would always go and watch practices every now and then when I was a little girl,” Harper said. “I would never really help out because my mom didn’t want me to be on the sidelines with the older players. She was afraid I’d be hurt or something.”
Nonetheless, as her sixth grade year rolled around, Harper’s persistence resulted in her first football managing job for the Searcy Lions.
“Mom thought I was old enough, and my dad needed some help because he only had two managers,” Harper said.
Thus Harper’s busy career began. Her schedule consisted of heading to the high school field right after school, working practice for about three hours every day, and then heading home to do her homework.
“I’ve pretty much done that since sixth grade until now,” Harper said.
As for her decision to attend Ouachita, football played a crucial role.
“Coach Knight had talked to my dad about me coming and helping out once I was old enough,” said Harper. “It started out as a joke, but every year that I came back and grew closer to college age, it became more serious.”
While Harper had always dreamed of putting on those khaki shorts and a purple, Tiger polo, there were some adjustments she had to make. Harper admitted that there were more injuries to deal with and more players who got injured.
“We get there two hours early every single practice, and we wrap every ankle, sometimes both ankles per player if needed. We also deal with all the other injuries, like wrapping wrists, putting on all the braces and giving them any type of medicine or anything else they’d need for the day. Our job is pretty much to get them prepared for a practice that’s injury free,” Harper said.
In addition to pre-practice responsibilities, Harper and her fellow managers were in charge of transporting all equipment, including the coolers (that carry enough water for over100 players), sets and medical equipment, down to the field. Once there, they strapped on their med-kit bags, gave all the boys water and took care of any injuries that arose. After practice ended and the team made its way back into the field house, Harper still wasn’t done. The managers had to put all the equipment back up, take it inside and reorganize it. A typical practice for a football player took around two hours, but for Harper and the rest of the football managing team, practice usually took four.
Although Harper admitted that her least favorite part of the job was going to practice, managing the football team did have its perks.
“They [the team] start out as strangers, but by the end of the year, they’re pretty much your brothers. They have your back, and you have theirs,” Harper said. “Just being on the sidelines on game day, there’s really nothing I’d rather do.”
By Addy Goodman
Photo by Andy Henderson
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