Name a sport and Ken Harniman has probably done it. In his era – 1929 to 1933 – athletes were not steered toward specializing in one or two sports, as is frequently the case today. The former Nyack High School standout excelled or had an impact in six sports: track and field, cross country, football, basketball, tennis and bowling.
Herniman was the most versatile track athlete of his day. He ran the 100-yard dash, the 220-yard dash and the mile, did the running broad jump (now called the long jump), high jumped, hurled the discus and shot put and pole vaulted, usually earning points in each event.
In 1933, Harniman won the mile run in the Rockland County Public School Athletic League championships by more than 125 yards. In cross country, he was the 1931 Rockland County PSAL champion. He started the season on the Nyack football team, but switched to cross country after sustaining a broken wrist in the first game of the season. His standard strategy on cross country courses was to start out in the back of the pack to push Nyack’s other runners, then move ahead and usually wind up winning the race.
In basketball, Harniman, a 5-foot-7 guard, played three years of varsity ball. He was a defensive whiz; no opposing player ever scored more than 4 points off him. He also had a lower total of fouls than the number of games played.
After graduating from Nyack in 1933, Harniman continued to flourish in a variety of sporting pursuits. At Western Illinois University in Macomb, Ill., he was the Leatherneck’s top quarter-miler in track for two consecutive seasons, 1938-39 (he did not enter college right out of high school during the difficult Depression era.)
Harniman also was Western Illinois’ No. 1 singles player in tennis those same years. Since tennis and track were both contested in the spring, some days he had to compete in the 440-yard dash and then play singles and doubles. On one occasion, the track meet ended in a tie. Harniman had to go play his tennis matches, then change back into his track equipment and run the 440-yard relay to decide the meet.
Rockland County at the time offered a wealth of opportunity for post-scholastic athletes. In track, Harniman shone in Amateur Athletic Union-sanctioned open events. In football, he played guard, center and end at 131 pounds for the undefeated Nyack Alumni Chieftains in 1934, ’35 and ’36. And in basketball, from 1935 through 1937, he was a member of the famed Nyack Y Arrows, who played all over New York City, New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut.
The Arrows played against such outstanding teams as the Detroit Clowns; Jamestown, the perennial New York State YMCA champion; and Gregory’s All-Stars of New York City. Some of Harniman’s teammates were Ed Green of Suffern, Jim Faulk of St. Agnes, Al Pennel, Glenn Ausbury and Bill Perry.
Harniman also played a major role in expanding the sports of tennis and bowling in Rockland. In tennis, he was instrumental in originating the Rockland County Men’s Singles Tournament in 1935. At the time he was working as a physical director at the Nyack YMCA and assistant coach at Nyack High School. He umpired the later stages of matches, maintained the courts and even wrote articles on the tourney for The Journal-News. (He later was a longtime reporter for that newspaper.)
Following World War II, Harniman, as president of the Pearl River Tennis Club, started up the men’s singles and doubles and women’s singles tournaments on the Merritt Tennis Courts in Pearl River.
In addition, Harniman was a prime mover in women’s bowling in Rockland, believing that everyone should be able to enjoy the sport equally. Upon taking over the Nyack YMCA Bowling Alleys and being put in charge of the pinboys, Harniman persuaded Ed Maurer, chairman of bowling at the Y, to set aside Wednesday nights as women’s bowling night. He also convinced Maurer (a Rockland Hall of Fame bowler) to bring his experienced colleagues to the Y to teach the women to bowl correctly. The women soon formed a league of their own.
Harniman, who is 86, served in the U.S. Army during World War II as a captain and main navigator for the 9th Army Air Force. He was shot down behind enemy lines and captured by the German Army. He managed to escape while interned as a Prisoner of War, but was later recaptured.
A longtime Nanuet resident, Harniman has suffered physical setbacks in recent years and now resides at the Castle Point Veterans Administration Hospital in Dutchess County. He has two grown children – Patricia, 56, and Robert, 55. His wife, Vera, is deceased.