Cardinal volleyball coach, battling cancer, returns to run Fourth of July sand volleyball tournament
AGENCY — As the 2018 track and field season was winding down this past May, Jerald Harter had more than just the completion of a very successful spring for the Cardinal boys program on his mind.
In the midst of a day in which the Comets competed for state titles on the track, Harter was about to begin a much tougher battle. Following the final day of the state track and field meet, the head coach of Cardinal volleyball and boys track traveled from Drake Stadium in Des Moines down to Houston, Texas, where Harter would begin fighting squamous cell cancer of the throat.
Less than two months later, Harter is refusing to let his battle with cancer stop him from being an active part of the Cardinal Community School District. That meant once again hosting the sand volleyball tournament held during the Fourth of July celebration in Agency on Wednesday, an event that Harter volunteered to head up three years ago and one he has seen grow to a point where 16 teams took part in this year's competition.
"This is by the far the biggest tournament we've ever had," said Harter from Agency Lions Park, where he watched from the shade as the sand volleyball tournament continued well after the 3-on-3 basketball and corn hole tournaments, which were also held Wednesday to benefit the Cardinal athletic program. "They're going to have to build us a second court for next year's tournament at this rate."
No one would have blamed Harter for staying in on Wednesday. Besides the hundreds of people that were in Agency Park for the Fourth of July festivities, which included a parade, a lunch for the community, and a variety of activities set to benefit the Cardinal Community School district athletic programs, temperatures ranged into the 90s with a heat index of over 100 degrees.
Harter instead chose once again to volunteer his time to run the sand volleyball tournament, even if this year it was under a tent to try and beat the heat.
"They've kept me pretty well watered up," Harter said. "I've been getting plenty of watermelon. I haven't been able to eat a lot of solid meals, but the watermelon really helps. The treatment leaves my mouth and throat pretty dry."
Harter has taught, coached and mentored many of our community's youth through the years both at Cardinal and Moravia High School. Currently, Harter is undergoing chemotherapy treatment for his cancer with a trip back to Houston scheduled for July 18.
"I've been doing a lot better with the treatment," Harter said. "It was a pretty big shock after the first round, but I've gotten back to where I can finally eat. I had some chicken the other day, which was one of the best things I've had to eat in a couple of weeks. My wife checked with me earlier in the day and I was feeling pretty good.
"It's great to see some many girls from Cardinal that returned to play in this tournament. I think there were over 20 former players that were taking part. We had 22 matches scheduled. Last year, we got done just in time for the fireworks to start."
The community of Cardinal has been trying to help give back to Harter, selling #HarterStrong T-shirts and #HarterStrong bracelets with proceeds going to help offset the medical bills for Harter's treatment. The head coach of the Comet volleyball team will be in Houston for seven more weeks of treatment when the upcoming season begins with preseason practice in August. Former Ottumwa High School standout Katie Orwig (formerly Sammons) will be the team's acting head coach this year with another former Bulldog, Sammy Garrett, joining as Orwig's assistant.
"I just didn't feel it would be fair to the kids to be here one week and gone for several more during the season," Harter said. "The idea is to miss out on one season in the hope of coaching several more."
Those wishing to help support the #HarterStrong cause can contact Cardinal by calling the school at 641-652-7531.
Scott Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CourierScott.