Legacy: The Harvey Way
Nine years after her passing, the Bulls trailblazer still holds a place in Buffalo lore
Nan Harvey passed away 2003 but was the leader at UB for gender equality in sports and continues to impact the athletic department. Courtesy of Paul Hokanson/UB Athletics
"She's the perfect UB story."
That sentiment, delivered by former Athletic Director Robert J. Arkeilpane in 2003, is one that is shared by many people whose lives crossed paths with the late Nan Harvey.
Throughout her time at Buffalo, Harvey was a constant crusader for gender equality, which was especially important considering the rapid change the Bulls were going through. She was the guiding voice in the athletic program that was phasing back into Division-1 during the '90s. The transition lasted through two presidents, three athletic directors, and many coaches, but she was one of few constants.
The Buffalo lifer, who was born and raised in Cheektowaga, started her UB journey in 1974, as a student-athlete fresh off of the addition of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.Although there were many facets of this act, the one that is most talked about is Title IX.
Title IX of the Education Amendment act states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. In short, it gave female athletes like Harvey a chance to compete in college sports.
Despite all this change, Harvey still wasn't awarded a scholarship in the fall of 1974, which was very common at the time due to the newness of the act. Because of this, Harvey's life goal became to foster equality between sports, giving the opportunities for females as men had.
With a degree in physical education in 1978, Harvey began her administrative campaign.
Five years later, in 1983, the Bulls hired Harvey as a softball coach. In the 20 years between her hiring and her tragic passing after a fight with ovarian cancer in 2003, she wore many hats at Buffalo.
As a coach, she won Division-3's National Coach of the Year in 1985 as the Bulls finished No. 12 in the nation. She also was an established and respected umpire after her coaching days, calling balls and strikes in three consecutive Division-3 National Championships from 1995-1997. After 28 years as an umpire, she received the highest honor in 1996, as she was elected to the National Softball Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Okla., a testament to her respectability.
Harvey was also a strength and conditioning coach, and in that role, she gained the praise of the men's teams coaches.
"Both the men and women's coaches respected her, and I think that respect, in my opinion, started when she was the strength and conditioning coach," said current Senior Assistant Laura Barnum, who was the director of business operations while Harvey was an administrator at Buffalo. "They really saw that she had passion for both the men's and the women's programs, and that she gave her all. They also saw that she can get results in both, which is unusual for a female strength and conditioning coach in the '90s."
With the respect of the coaches and administrators in hand, Harvey ascended to the role of senior woman administrator in late 1996. In this role - where she was in charge of 15 different programs, as well as an advocate for women's sports - she relished. She strove for equality in terms of facilities, uniforms, even food for the athletes. It was hard enough on most colleges, but for a school that was also in its final stages to its transition to the Mid-American Conference in 1999, Harvey's efforts and work was especially important. But she had help.
"The good news was that she wasn't alone," Barnum said. "At that time, President Grenier was behind her 100 percent, and I think that flowed down the line to other administrators, like Bob Wagner, Dennis Black, [and former Athletic Directors] Bob Arkeilpane, and Bill Maher. Senior administration at that time was critical, and they were behind gender equity and what it meant. She took that role to a whole new level. There were other senior women administrators that did a great job here, but I think she just took it to a new level, in that she really took on Title IX as being important, not just for the female athletes."
However, there is usually opposition to Title IX. Oftentimes, that opposition stems from the fact that some men's sports suffer because of the necessary inclusion of women's sports. But Harvey took pride in the fact that athletic compliance was achieved without the need to cut men's programs.
"There are very few institutions that can say that they achieved the level that UB has," Barnum said. "To see from where we were to where we are today, I think that there are a few schools that can say that they've done that, and at the same time grow a program to Division-1 competitively. No one can do it alone, but it was her leadership, keeping us on task and keeping us on the plan."
Leading by Example
Just as importantly, on the personal level, Harvey was known to talk to, and get to know all athletes, not just the female ones.
"She wanted to know every athlete on the team," said women's tennis head coach Kathy Twist. "She watched us play, she talked to the athletes. She wanted to make sure that we didn't miss anything so that the students could have a great experience. She also went to wrestling matches, football games, she would know every athlete by name, and she was sincerely interested in them as people. I think the athletes picked up on that, she was a sincere person and they knew that it wasn't just a put-on just to make herself look good."
Twist especially appreciated Harvey. As a new head coach in 1996, the same year that Harvey reached the women administrator role, she felt the pressures associated with captaining a program.
"Nan helped me [learn] how to get that done," Twist said. "I was new. I didn't know the system, and I needed things for my athletes like new equipment and transportation, and Nan helped me to do that. She was always by my side."
Those who knew her personally talk about her ability to connect to people, despite her fiery personality.
"Well sometimes we would disagree, because we were strong-willed people," Twist said. "The important thing was she was able to step back and think about what you brought to the table, and she would change if she thought that your idea was better. And I respected her for that, it wasn't gonna be about her ego, it was going to be about the student-athlete and what was best for them. She put them first."
The administration also shared the coaches' respect for Harvey's stern yet personable leadership.
"Whatever she did, she did it passionately," Barnum said. "You knew how Nan Harvey felt, whether it was a good or bad thing. She stuck to her guns and followed through, and I think those are two things that anybody could respect."
Her attributes shined brightest in the biggest fight of her life - the fight against ovarian cancer.
Despite the diagnosis, she didn't ease up. Even with the constant chemotherapy treatments from 2000 to 2003, she inspired many people by continuing to attend events, and work to achieve her goals until her death in 2003.
Former volleyball player Rebecca Ashare once said of Harvey: "Her insistence on coming to work and attending athletic and school functions has always made me push myself a little harder."
Paul Vecchio, who was an assistant athletics director for communications, said in 2003 that "Frankly, I don't know how she does it."
Even though she is gone, if you listen closely, you can hear the whispers of her vision all over the Buffalo campus. The softball field was renamed in her honor, a gift after she selflessly donated over $200,000 towards athletics. The coaches and former players that were around with Harvey also feel her presence every day.
"I hear her voice all the time, telling me to take care of the student-athletes," Twist said. "I think that's ingrained in all of us. You have the example in your head of what Nan did for each and every athlete here. We look for the good student-athlete here, we look for the person that has good character and is a great athlete, a person that can perform all the time. All in all, the people that we bring in are going to be a signature on this program, a signature on this university, and a signature on this community, and that is her legacy."
Although Harvey's presence is felt among administration and coaches, her commitment to the athletic programs still has a lasting effect on the people that Harvey worked so hard for, the student-athletes.
"She was always in team meetings, talking to us about the importance of what we did and how she believed in us," said former women's soccer player Anna-Lesa Cavlert, who played from 2001-05. "She had our back. She was at a lot of the games - you know, it's an outdoor sport, and you know how cold it can get in Buffalo - but she was always there, cheering us on. Nan was a staple, and still is."
Even coaches that came along afterwards feel the presence that Harvey brought to the table. Softball head coach Jennifer Teague uses Harvey as an example to her players despite never seeing firsthand how Harvey carried herself.
"Unfortunately I never had the chance to meet Nan, but I feel like I know her through her legacy, and through the people that knew her," Teague said. "The field is named after her, her parents come to the games every year, and she was just a huge advocate for Title IX and women's sports. As we teach young women to grow up and to be the change for the world, she was there for UB to be the change for UB."
"Selfless. Passionate. Determined. Fiery." These are the words that her colleagues associated with Harvey.
These are the attributes that follow every Bulls player. And it's something that Harvey would be proud of.
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