The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

April 19, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Harlee works on being hero on, off court

MORGANTOWN — “I don’t want to be remembered for my tennis accomplishments.”

– Arthur Ashe

MORGANTOWN – Arthur Ashe always knew the important things in life.

Because he did, he really isn’t known for his tennis accomplishments, as great as they may have been.

He is known far more for what he was, than what he did, and somehow Jessica Harlee, the West Virginia University women’s basketball player, understands.

  She should, for today she possesses the annual Arthur Ashe Jr. Female Sports Scholar of the Year Award, awarded by Diverse: Issues in Higher Education Magazine, awarded to the top female in college athletics.

Ashe, of course, was so much more than an athlete. He was a pioneer, a black man making inroads in the very white sport of tennis, the first African-American to win the U.S. Open, doing so as an amateur and at a time when the only other person of color of note in the sport was Althea Gibson.

He went on to become a leader, not only in the black community, but in America. He passed on strength and courage and wisdom.

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

– Arthur Ashe

Jessica Harlee doesn’t know all there is to know about Arthur Ashe. Now that she has the award, one suspects, she will learn more.

And she will be the better for it.

“My mom told me some things about him. He sounds like he was a special man, very incredible. He definitely crossed the lines and did things that were unexpected,” he said.

She is off to a good start, as evidenced by this award. That she won it is something of a testament to how there is so much more to her than just athletics.

Awards normally go to players who score 20 points a game. She didn’t. She didn’t score in double figures.

In fact, Jessica Harlee didn’t start for West Virginia.

Her specialty is defense and hustle.

And academics.

She averages 3.9 majoring in industrial engineering.

“It’s more the background players, the hard-working players,” Harlee said when asked why she thought she took down the award. “That’s what I am. I take the charge, dive on the floor. I’m not the star of the team. I do the little things, come up with the big play on defense.”

And the big score in the classroom.

“You have to be good academically. I stress my academics. I am for straight A’s in everything,” she said.

It comes from her parents, who were also athletes.

They stressed academics more than sports. Getting B’s wasn’t acceptable. They knew how smart I was. They were very intelligent themselves and they pushed me,” she said.

Not that they had to.

“Academics came easier for me. I’m naturally gifted and a lot in school comes easy to me. Basketball, I have to work for everything I get,” she said.

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Bob Herzel
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