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Muncy wrestling community shows support for Harer

One-by-one people marched to a microphone in the middle of the Muncy High School auditorium Monday night. Their intention was the same.

Some had notes in their hand. Some read prepared statements. Others spoke off the top of their head. Some needed a few extra seconds to compose themselves, and others wiped away tears from their eyes as they spoke.

For nearly 90 minutes at the monthly Muncy School Board meeting, members of the Indians’ wrestling team, their parents and supporters spoked in support of head wrestling coach Denny Harer, whose contract is up for renewal.

Accusations of varying kinds of wrongdoing have put in peril Harer’s position as the team’s head coach even after leading the team to maybe its most successful season ever this winter. The school district’s athletic committee, which makes the recommendation to the school board about hiring, retaining and firing coaches, postponed its vote on Harer so it could hear comments from the public last night.

Supporters filled more than half the high school’s auditorium and applauded each speech of support for Harer to be retained as the head wrestling coach. No decision on his job was made during last night’s meeting.

“This makes my heart full,” said Harer’s wife Jennifer, who was the first to speak. “It’s a difficult time because this is his life and his credibility is being attacked. But he’s strong. He knows he has a lot of support. I know Denny is very humbled. We can’t thank everybody enough. It’s certainly a bright spot in all of this to know we have so much support.”

The Harer family found out a few weeks ago that his position as the wrestling team’s head coach may not be renewed. Coaches at Muncy work on one-year contracts, and each year they are reviewed and it is decided whether or not they are to be retained.

This winter, Harer led Muncy to a 24-5 record and a fourth-place finish at the PIAA Team Wrestling Championships. He also coached Joe Klock to Muncy’s first individual state wrestling championship since 2011, and qualified five wrestlers to the state tournament, with two earning medals.

Since taking over the program in 2005, Harer has taken Muncy from a program which had just four or five wrestlers on the varsity roster to a program which has had a state placewinner in each of the last 11 seasons. That streak is tied for the longest active streak in District 4 with Benton.

But Jennifer said last night unsubstantiated accusations have been hurled Denny’s way in order to get the district to not renew his contract for next season. As the word that his contract may not be renewed got out, a social media campaign has been launched to help gain support for Harer.

Wrestlers of his, past and present, have taken to social media to post pictures of themselves with Harer with the hashtag #HarerTrained. The school board moved up the public comments portion of last night’s meeting in order to allow as many people as possible to speak about Harer.

“I am the man I am today because of what wrestling and Denny Harer taught me,” said former Muncy state placewinner Matt Johnson.

“Denny Harer is unlike any coach I’ve ever played for,” Muncy senior wrestler Noah Gush said. “He made us the priority. I wouldn’t want to have been coached by anyone else.”

“He has changed my life for the better,” Muncy sophomore Jacob Blair said. “He has helped me in sports and in life in general.”

His current wrestlers all wore the medals they have won under the tutelage of Harer, including Klock, who sported the state gold medal he won in Hershey in March.

Assistant coach Ron Hembury made an impassioned speech which earned him a standing ovation from the crowd, saying as successful as the season was, he couldn’t wait for it to be over because of the negativity of accusations people delivered at Harer and the program.

“The man has dedicated his life to this program,” Hembury said. “The strain on him and his family right now is unbelievable. I hope hatred does not win in this situation. Hatred is what has us here tonight, and hatred is what has tears in people’s eyes.”

Speaker after speaker implored the board to make “the right decision” to retain Harer as the team’s head coach. That included individuals from both Berwick and Mount Carmel whose children have competed with and against Harer at the elementary level.

Jennifer Harer said in her remarks to the board her family has been dealing with negativity and accusations for a long time. But it all came to a head recently as it all began to affect their children.

“Denny has constantly been under a microscope. He’s walking around on egg shells,” Jennifer said after them meeting. “It has turned into personal issues that have destroyed personal relationships. Our circle of trust was very small at one point and we felt we were always under attack and felt we constantly had to stand up for ourselves. It’s caused a lot of heartache in our family and a lot of anguish. We’re trying to do our best and do everything right and pray that people just let him do his job and let him coach.”

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