Legacy: The Harvey Way
Nine years after her passing, the Bulls trailblazer still holds a place in Buffalo lore
Published: Friday, April 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
“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.