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If you’ve ever been to a Husker football game, you might know about the place where fans can line up under the stadium to see the players file out after a game. From a young age, I always wanted to be one of those kids, high-fiving players and shaking the coaches’ hands.

When I attended games with my dad, I never got to be part of it because he never wanted to leave before the end of the game.

But on a cold November night in 2006, I got my chance.

For this particular game, I was with my mom, and the Huskers had a solid 34-20 lead over the Missouri Tigers. So, she finally made my wish come true.

We made our way from our seats, down the ramps and along the bottom of the stadium, ending up among a sea of parents and their kids trying to glimpse the players who would soon make their way back to the locker room, giving out the coveted high-fives in the process.

While my mom stayed back, I joined the masses of people trying to work to the front, but I couldn’t see over the adults and taller kids. That’s when a kind, older gentleman saw my eager, yet disappointed face, and let me take his spot directly next to the red carpet.

Pressing up against the maroon velvet rope, the players began to make their victory exit off the field. In the midst of the ruckus, while fans congratulated the players, one of the receivers threw me his glove. It was Nate Swift, a talented player for the Huskers in his senior season.

Jumping up and down holding the sweaty receiver’s glove tight, I was hooked.

There I was, a 4-foot-nothing, 10-year-old girl, discovering a passion that would end up impacting many different aspects of my life for years to come.

While I loved football and other sports way before then, this was the defining moment for me. I didn’t just love it—I understood and connected with it.

But growing up, my knowledge of the sport was always questioned.

My first memory of this was during the 2009 Big 12 Conference Championship game when the Huskers played the Texas Longhorns. While the other kids were playing upstairs, I was in the basement alongside the adults, thoroughly invested in what was happening in Arlington, Texas, that night.

I remember my friends trying to convince me to forgo the game and play with them instead.

“C’mon Grace, come play,” they said. “It’s just a game.”

Was it really just a game?

As I watched the seconds expire on the clock as Texas’ kicker won the game for the Longhorns by one point, my heart shattered. At that moment, I knew it wasn’t just a game.

My experiences continued as I got older when boys at my high school would talk about football. Nonchalantly, I would add something. But even if I was right, they would almost always discredit it, because after all, I was “just a girl.”

But why can’t girls like football?

And going even further, why can’t girls understand football?

Well, they can. And I am living proof.

Once in college, my experiences with sports expanded beyond football as I began to write for The Daily Nebraskan as a sports reporter.

As I covered gymnastics meets and tennis tournaments, my appreciation for student athletes and their sports grew. The more sporting events I attended, the more I realized how much athletics have influenced my life.

As a child, they represented happy days spent with my parents while they tried to explain to me that the yellow first down marker wasn’t actually drawn on the field—it was just on TV.

As a middle school and high school student, the gymnastics and cross country teams I was a part of provided me lasting friendships. It also gave me an appreciation for running 3.1 miles without stopping.

Now in college, sports have changed my life in perhaps the biggest way. Not only through the friendships I’ve made through Husker football game days, but by influencing my career goals and aspirations.

When I was named the 2017-18 senior sports editor, the first female to get the gig since at least the ‘80s, I wondered if my sports knowledge would continue to be questioned. But now, I realize it doesn’t matter. Sports have impacted my life in a huge way, and I’m just thankful to continue sharing my love and passion with others in the years to come.

sports@dailynebraskan.com