The Student News Site of St. Mark's School of Texas


St. Mark's School of Texas
10600 Preston Road Dallas, TX 75230
The Student News Site of St. Mark's School of Texas


The Student News Site of St. Mark's School of Texas


A young-man’s game

Making the varsity team in any sport is an impressive feat that many dream of at all ages. To do it in two sports is even rarer. Freshman Harman Pope has done all of it and more — and he’s only 14.
MASTER-APPRENTICE Freshman Harman Pope poses for a picture with his coach, Ryan Hershner.

As a 14-year-old athlete entering high school sports, making the varsity team for his school may seem to be a far-fetched dream. While more tenured athletes have years of experience and physical growth under their belts, the new freshmen and underclassmen are inherently in an unfavorable position when it comes to placement on a team.

And yet, freshman Harman Pope has achieved that feat in two sports – track and field and cross country.

The gap between both of these sports at the middle and high school levels is significant. Races are longer, and the competition is faster. Pope’s placement on the varsity team meant that he had to make adjustments on the fly as he entered high school.

“Upper School track is a lot different than Middle School track,” Pope said. “The training is much harder and you’re running more mileage. When you’re on varsity, you get what you could expect it to be.”

After settling in on the team, Pope was also able to form strong relationships with seniors on the team to help improve team chemistry and gain insight for later in high school.

“I’ve gotten to know (seniors) Parker Steinbrueck, Raja Mehendale, Clark Cooper and Asa McCaleb,” Pope said. “I talk to them every day, and they make the sport so much more enjoyable.”

While others may be nervous about being the youngest member of the team, Pope is confident in his abilities and knows his coaches placed him on varsity for a reason. He enjoys surrounding himself with older members of the team who are faster than him because they help him improve his skills and set goals to work towards. 

Aside from having influential team members, head cross country coach and assistant head track coach Ryan Hershner has also helped inspire Pope to become a better runner. Pope’s relationship with Hershener formed a bond that will only strengthen with time, an important part of developing a good team.

“I think when a coach puts you on varsity, and you make it known to them that you’re serious about the sport, it kind of releases some tension,” Pope said. “It can help you build a relationship with the coach as well. Coach Hershner ran in college, and he knows one of my goals is to run in college, so he knows how to get there and that is super helpful.”

While a multitude of factors are considered for a freshman’s placement on the team, Hershner believes that a freshman’s ability to ‘run free’ is a big part of the question. Unlike older and more experienced runners, freshmen typically are not as concerned about being in the top of their league, allowing them to fully immerse themselves in the sport without fear of failure.

“Sometimes some people lose faith in their abilities over the years, but as freshmen, they’re pretty pure,” Hershner said. “Just having that free mindset is something that I wish could stay with everybody throughout their high school tenure.”

Another benefit of having freshmen on varsity is the opportunity to teach them leadership skills at a young age in high school. These qualities are then developed within athletes throughout their high school career to create strong leaders and potential captains during their senior seasons. 

It can be difficult to move straight from eighth grade to competing against kids that may have years more experience than them, but having good leadership in place to help set an example for any freshmen helps to aid that process.

“There’s a big difference in the speed of play, and having somebody older than you to take you under their wing is enormous in terms of what it can do for the future of the younger kid,” Hershner said. “Like I said, that kind of carefree, ‘I’m going to do what I can do attitude, because I don’t know any better, and if you have a senior leader that can help hone that in (yet) direct him in times of need that can help them learn how to play the game more effectively. As you get older, the game comes more naturally to you, but as a freshman, you may not know the ins and outs like a senior might.”

For the cross country team specifically, Hershner believes that Pope has great potential and already displays many of the skills that make up a good runner. 

“Harman competes, and being competitive is step one,” Hershner said. “He gives off that presence on race day, which is what has helped catapult him to varsity. A lot of that is being coachable, having that desire to be the best that you can be and not letting anybody else mess you up.”

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About the Contributor
Rohan Kakkar, Staff Writer