June 14, 2023
Beyond the Game: A Legacy of Community
From its inception, life at The College of St. Scholastica has been centered around community. While the concept of campus life has looked different through the years, deep friendships and connections have flourished and made a lasting impact. This month, a decades-old friendship will leave a significant and visible mark on campus with the dedication of Kenny Harkins Field.
Kenny came to St. Scholastica to establish the men’s soccer program in 1978 following his graduate studies at UW-Madison. Dan Seeler ’82, Kenny’s very first recruit, played soccer and hockey and has remained connected to the College through the years.
As we prepare for the upcoming June 23 field dedication, we wanted to reminisce with Dan and Kenny and share a bit about this journey. The following is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation over lunch at The Boat Club in Duluth.
What was it like to start the soccer program?
Dan: All right, starting the program, Kenny, what was that like? Pretty easy. You start from scratch.
Kenny: Yeah, sure. No field, no equipment, no goals. And that was almost a full month before our first game.
Dan: No uniforms.
Kenny: No uniforms, no team. Oh yeah, easy.
Dan: A bag of balls, three.
Kenny: No, you had three. I got these Cobblers [balls] from Ron Holtzhueter, my friend and mentor from my club in Madison, the 56ers. Those English balls, they were like rocks.
Dan: Wrong size. They were the wrong size.
Kenny: Well, the uniforms, Kevin [Hoene, the Athletic Director] had ordered these uniforms, and they came, they were volleyball uniforms. So, I sent those right back, and one of the guys on our team — Billy Hoene, the other captain with Dan — was managing our summer team in Duluth, he had all the uniforms for that club team. They were bright orange with a gong on the front, it said, “Chinese Lantern.” Black shorts.
Dan: He’s not kidding. I mean those were our unis, year one.
Kenny: That was our kit.
Dan: We didn’t have classy uniforms.
So, was that the first spot you looked at for the field?
Kenny: Yeah, there was nothing else flat there. If you looked at the field right now, that was sort of level and then it was just rolling terrain and what would be to the south end of the field that we have now. So, there’s no possibility to put it north-south. I had to make it east-west. And so, I was up against the trees toward the cemetery and I was up to the edge of the hill, going down to the parking lot. And I don’t remember how wide it was, but…I always told people that it was a hundred yards long, but it wasn’t.
Actually, I believe it used to be a field hockey field for the Sisters, so it was about 80 yards by 40 yards or so, with stone markers in the corners. The south of the field now, there were golf holes in that pasture area.
Beyond athletic opportunities, what did you think of the College?
Dan: In terms of liking the school, I will say this; after my freshman year, which wasn’t a disciplined year at all, certainly from an academic standpoint, I contemplated leaving and I didn’t really know where I was going to go. But one big reason I stayed was because of Kenny and the commitment that he had to the program. And I felt I was a part of that. It was important to fulfill that commitment. And I’m glad I did.
My accounting instructor was Sister Ramona at the time. It was a tough class for anybody as a freshman, but it was especially tough when you didn’t commit to it. And I mean, Sister Ramona sat me down in her incredible way of being nurturing, but being incredibly tough at the same time. And we talked through what school should look like for a serious college student. So I had to drop out of her class that year, but out of that grew a strong friendship with Sister Ramona that lasted for decades, up until the time she passed. She had an incredible impact, another important reason that I stayed around.
[There were] other reasons that I made the decision to stay, and ultimately had an incredible experience at the school, both academically and athletically. Socially, spiritually, all very positive. I’ve stayed involved in the school for years because of it. St. Scholastica did a tremendous amount for me and [I met] some very special people along the way, Kenny being one of those really, really important people. The Sisters that I mentioned, and having an opportunity to meet some great friends. Lifelong friends. Guys that I met on that soccer field for the first time; I mean, it’s amazing. My business partner who came a couple years later, Dave Hirsch, we met up on that soccer field too.
How do you remember all of these specific incidents and games after so many years?
Kenny: You just…
Dan: You do. You really do.
Kenny: Yeah. Yeah, there’s certain things that are crystal clear. And with years, I think memories get a little less trustworthy.
Dan: That’s true too.
Kenny: But some things. There are some things that I can see like it happened yesterday. And some of those things are that way. Some of the things Dan did, it’s like it just happened. It’s like I can see it. Goals he scored against St. Mary’s that first year.
Dan: That’s a great memory. That [game] was amazing. That game was a rubber stamp that we had gained some credibility, we’d gained some respect… Coming into that game, [it] wasn’t really a reasonable thought to think that was going to happen, except we thought that it could happen. And it was… It’s an interesting story in what a group of guys and a coach can accomplish against a program that was a rock-solid MIAC program experience. Been around for years and years and years. Playing on their pitch.
Kenny: They thought they were pretty good that year. They had made the top half of the MIAC, so they were in the playoffs. And their coach – I’m not sure if I remember this exactly right – planned to play his starters then sub all of his players in as they put us away. He didn’t actually say that, but he sure implied it! I did share his comments and attitude with the guys before the game. Those guys did not like that message whatsoever.
And then…his starters never left the field!
Dan: Honestly, I get chills from that because we knew it was a big deal at that time, because we lived that season together. But I realized afterwards how impactful that was in terms of confidence for this program, this team, moving forward. It was an important piece. We hadn’t had a signature win.
Kenny: It was a validation of what we did.
Dan: Yeah, for sure.
What did it feel like playing on Saints Field?
Dan: Great memories from that field. It was an incredible field, right? So, the Valley of Silence, the view. So unique and different. A field that was too short. Water breaks, the coldest water in the world. I think they pumped it directly out of Lake Superior. It was unbelievable, because when we get there, it’s August. We had some warm days in August. It was a big deal. Constantly chasing balls, the way it was before, constantly chasing balls. You miss, you go get it. Right. That was part of Kenny’s conditioning. And balls would fly down that hill.
But because of where the monastic community is and where the Valley of Silence was and where the Sisters are, the Cemetery of Peace… It was this incredible place on campus, and it still is today. When I come back to St. Scholastica, when it’s not the wintertime, I always make that walk, the same walk that we did as players and coaches. Walking up to that field, I go up the road. I go into the cemetery. I visit Sister Ramona, visit Sister Janelle. I mean, that’s part of my routine. I’ve taken my family up there. I’ve taken my wife up there a number of times. It’s a very special place.
How did the idea of naming the soccer field develop?
Dan: Chris [Mueller] and I have been working together for a while now, and we’ve talked about various opportunities with the school. My family’s focus with the school is because of all the experiences I had as a student and a student-athlete. So, it’s a big area, and we really wanted to focus on the student-athlete experience.
We also understood that the move to the MIAC is a big facilities move. It’s a shift to be able to recruit and have the things you need to be successful, so Chris and I talked about the Hall of Fame and the upgrades and the soccer shields and things like that, but then the field came up, and we had some serious conversations about it. And it was a really good fit. It made really good sense. I had the opportunity to learn more about the field condition and how it compared with who we’re competing with, et cetera, et cetera. And again, it just made really good sense to our family, and so we made that pledge for a new field.
And it was clear that came with naming rights, and I’m going to be 100% transparent. I didn’t think for a second that I was going to put my name on that field, not a second. My wife, Kris, asked, “What are you thinking?” I said, “There’s only one person that deserves to have his name on this field, and that’s Kenny Harkins.” Because of your commitment to the men’s and women’s program, to those students for decade, over decade, over decade, to the soccer community, to The College of St. Scholastica, the energy, the expertise, the care, the nurturing, the mentoring, the coaching. Your name absolutely belongs on that field, and it fits. It fits perfectly.
And Kenny, when that field gets finished in 2023 and people see your name on that field, they’re going to say the exact same thing, that this is a guy that deserves to have a field named after him. So, there wasn’t even a decision on our part. It really wasn’t. It was an automatic. And I thank you for what you did for me as a young person, a young player, ultimately, a coach myself. But the things that you’ve done for all those kids for 127 years now…
Kenny: I thought it was 200.
Dan: But with heartfelt sincerity, thank you.
Kenny: I was warming up our guys for the alumni game, running through some dynamic stuff, when you came to me and told me this… And what did I say to you? What was my answer?
Dan: I think you said, “Isn’t it Kenny Harkins Field now?” Or something like that.
Kenny: Probably. I think I did say that, now that you say that, but what was the first thing I said? I asked if I could decline the penalty.
Dan: Oh, that’s right. That’s right. That was good. I should have remembered that. I will now. I’ve heard it twice.
Kenny: Hey, my guys are looking at me, like, “What are you guys talking about?” They were just waiting for what to do next, wondering what was going on with us.
Dan: So one last note, and this is… I’ve shared this with Chris before, but I’m a true believer that philanthropy is learned behavior, that we’re not born with that side of things, that you learn over time to think less and less about the internal and more and more about others.
And so, we’ve been very fortunate as a family, and we don’t take that for granted one second. We work very hard, but we don’t take it for granted, and we feel that there is an incredible obligation to do things to help people that need assistance, that need whatever that help is at that particular point in time. This was an important piece of that, and to be able to attach Kenny Harkins’ name to it was huge. Huge. I mean, it makes me happy. It really does. And it makes my family happy, too. And it made my dad happy when I told him about it.
The giving back to St. Scholastica, and I think that when an institution, when the people of that community have the type of impact that they had on my life, period, that continues every single day, that you have to look at it and say, “You know what? I’ve been blessed. I’ve been really, really fortunate to have had that experience, and we should do as much as we possibly can to help sustain this institution and all the great traditions that they have in the best way we possibly can.” So this is one way to do it.
I’m looking forward to the field being [redone]. I’m looking forward to my good friend Kenny Harkins’ name going up in bright lights, and it’ll be fun.
Kenny: Thank you.
Join us for the Kenny Harkins Field Dedication on Friday, June 23 at 4:30 p.m. All are welcome!