There was hardly a dry eye at the Walker County Board of Education meeting on Thursday, as Curry Middle School Coach Jamie Harding was recognized for seeing past circumstance to embrace one girl's …
There was hardly a dry eye at the Walker County Board of Education meeting on Thursday, as Curry Middle School Coach Jamie Harding was recognized for seeing past circumstance to embrace one girl's determined spirit.
Harding was presented the Arc of Alabama School Inclusion Award in November 2018, for allowing London Farris to play on the Curry Middle School volleyball team.
Farris' mother, Kelly Farris, wrote a letter to recommend Harding for the award, which she shared, in part, at Thursday's school board meeting. In an emotional speech, Farris described how her daughter, London, was born with a chromosome abnormality that caused developmental delays. She was also diagnosed with autism.
After Harding observed then-13-year-old London playing with a volleyball in 2017, he asked her parents if she could join the volleyball team.
"I was in shock and awe of the thought that my special needs daughter was going to be on the school's volleyball team, because I never thought she would have that opportunity," Farris said. "When she was younger, we didn't know if she would be able to walk, much less play sports."
Farris said Harding made accommodations for London, and explained her abilities to her fellow teammates.
"He worked with her individually and, just like all the other girls, he made sure she was included in every aspect," Farris said.
Harding also made sure London was able to start every game, and she participated in practices like all the other players.
In an interview with the Daily Mountain Eagle in September 2017, Harding said,"[London] has been more of a blessing to us than we’ve probably been to her. We’re learning more from her than she probably is from us."
Farris said learning to play the game gave London a boost of confidence and helped her make friends.
"Coach Harding would get on the volleyball court with London to help her start, and she really improved. He worked with her on her hitting and her form," Farris said. "She really had to work hard with what she could do. Sometimes he would have to pull the net down just a little bit lower for the ball to go over, but she did improve over the season."
Farris said she hopes other coaches will be inspired by the work of Harding and understand what a difference being included meant to London.
"He understood that what may seem simple to others is challenging to some. A lot of people do take for granted a kid getting to go out there and hit a volleyball over the net, but for her, that was a big deal," she said. "He supported London and cheered her on, and he was the reason that she got to be a part. I will never be able to thank him enough for what he did. To me, Coach Harding is a prime example of what a coach should be."
Trent Kennedy, board member for District 1, commended Harding for his service to the Curry community and his students.
"I got the opportunity to actually witness this," Kennedy said, of watching Harding help London on the court. "We love Coach Harding."
Superintendent Dr. Joel Hagood added, "I heard Mrs. Farris say, probably at least three times, 'above and beyond.' I think what she described about Coach Harding ... just exemplifies in our school system the many employees we have across the county that's going above and beyond in their jobs each and every day."