“The average person would lay there. Be different. Be great.”
That is what one of two posters taped directly above his pillow states, and the other reads, “You’re lying there while someone is outworking you. When you meet them, they will win.”
Those phrases feed Chase Harler’s hunger to win and his fear of losing, but not just on the basketball court. The Wheeling Central Catholic senior, a three-season captain for head coach Mel Stephens and the Maroon Knights, will lead his team into the Class AA OVAC finals today against Caldwell High at 3 p.m. Harler and his teammates are 17-1 heading into the title tilt against the Redskins, but no matter what the result, Harler will return to his classes with many more goals to reach.
He’s that kid. Always positioned on an even keel, this headstrong student/athlete is well aware that when he suits up in his No. 14 jersey, there’s that imaginary target on the back that opponents attempt to use in an effort to stymy and stifle this stellar player.
It seldom has worked, and that’s because he’s smart and not selfish, and if an opponent hits the hardwood after getting burned, it is Harler who stands above with a hand extended to help him back to his feet.
“My father watched a documentary one time, and ever since he’s repeated one line to me. ‘Never look down on a man unless you’re picking them up, ’” said the hoopster who committed to attend West Virginia University and play for head coach Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers. “I’ve lived by that for a long time.
“At the beginning of the season I felt some pressure because I had just committed to WVU, and people probably thought I was going to go out and score 50 every night,” Harler continued. “But then I settled in. I still feel some pressure, but at the same time, what do I have to prove? I want to win the OVACs and another state championship, so I just go out there and do what I need to do to help us win.”
Harler is the youngster in his family as he has two half-sisters and a half-brother because his father reared the siblings during his first marriage. Jason is 41, Jessica is 38, and Jody is 35 years old. The two half-sisters reside in the Morgantown area and are excited for his future as a Mountaineer.
The Harler family lives in Moundsville two streets away from the former West Virginia Penitentiary, and his father, John, is a 1972 graduate of John Marshall High School, where he excelled on the basketball court before heading to West Liberty to continue his hoops career for head coach Tom Ackerman and the Hilltoppers.
But when it came to his youngest son John and his wife Tammy selected the parochial route instead of public. Chase attended St. Francis until it closed, and then he transferred to Our Lady of Peace. Following his eighth-grade commencement, Wheeling Central Catholic was the choice.
“I did ask him about John Marshall because I thought he might want to be around the friends he grew up with, but he really wanted to come to Wheeling Central,” John explained. “And yes, some people have said some things. Some have been critical; maybe not as much as I probably expected, but some. I know there are adults in Moundsville that think he should be playing for John Marshall.
“I’ve gone in McDonald’s some mornings, and there are some of those guys who have looked at me with that look on their face. They probably think I’m a traitor or something,” the father continued. “I remember when it was time to pick where he would go to high school, and I had a lot of people telling me that he should go to Wheeling Park since basketball was his game. But be wanted to be a Maroon Knight.”
His teammates tabbed him team captain first before his sophomore schedule began and every season since. They watch him, they follow, and they know how to motivate him, too, and that’s what a teammate did during a seesaw battle with St. Clairsville on Jan. 27. The Maroon Knights opened a 10-point lead in the first half, but the Red Devils clawed back to take a 36-31 lead into the locker room at the half.
The contest remained tight through the fourth quarter, but with less than a second remaining it was Harler who swished a short jumper for the 56-54 victory.
“My teammate Gabe Roman came up to me on the court late in that game and said, to me, ‘You’re the best player in the state, and it’s time to prove it.’ I immediately thought to myself, ‘Did he just say that to me?’ It was really cool,” Harler recounted. “It really motivated me.
“Then I had a really strong fourth quarter, and eventually I would hit the game winner,” he said. “That was pretty cool, and I thanked Gabe after the game.”
The Player and the Person
More than 70 seniors were sitting in the bleachers inside Wheeling Central’s gymnasium in East Wheeling back in December because the time had arrived for the soon-to-be-graduating class to attend a retreat. Mike Young, athletic director and head football coach, was selected to make the opening remarks during which the administrator had to ask the teenagers to relinquish their cell phones for the duration of the 24-hour lockdown.
“You can just imagine how much I was looking forward to that,” Young said with a smirk. “But what I told them was that some of the most dynamic members of that class would be the first ones to give theirs up, and at the same time I was looking directly at Chase.
“I knew that if he was the first, the rest would follow,” he said. “And that’s exactly what happened, and that’s because he isn’t just a leader on the court, and that’s because Chase Harler brings with him much more than athleticism to Wheeling Central Catholic High School and to the grade schools in this system. Those young people look to emulate him because he’s all class in the classroom; he’s all class in our community; and he’s all class on that court. As a coach I can tell you that you do not always have that from a student/athlete, and I attribute a lot of it to his parents.”
There have been the “Harler headlines” in local sports sections and “Harler highlights” recorded for TV newscasts, but his accomplishments have not been limited to athletics.
“He’s not just a star athlete, and that’s because he’s in the classroom working just as hard, and he’s always one of the first students to volunteer for service projects, and the other students do notice that,” said Wheeling Central Principal Becky Sancomb said. “He truly leads by example, and he’s not out there claiming he’s the greatest. He’s a great example for others.
“On the court it would be very easy for him to get frustrated because, no matter who we are playing against, he’s the target. He’s one getting double-teamed, and the referees know exactly who he is, but he keeps his composure because he knows he’s a leader on and off that court,” she continued. “The media talk about him, and so do the fans, but he’s always been level-headed about all of that. I believe he’s going to be successful in basketball, and I believe he’s going to be very successful in life, too, because of the heart he has.”
When Sancomb first arrived at the parochial high school, Harler was a freshman and just as new to the Wheeling Central environment.
“He has been a part of the first class that I have had the chance to watch grow into young adults over the past four years,” Sancomb said. “Athletically, he’s a joy to watch on the court, and I am a big basketball fan, but he’s also an easy person to root for in life, too, because he has chosen to take a path that is not as easy as what star athletes might get.
“He knew pretty early that he would have the chance to play college basketball somewhere, so he also knew that he would have to qualify for the clearing house,” the principal continued. “But he decided not to take the easy path academically. He’s pushed himself, and he’s accepted the challenges of higher-level classes. I’m proud of him for that.”
Oddly, Harler is aware of the attention, and he’s cognizant of the peering eyes, too, but his perspective appears pointed away from all of that. Instead, it’s one goal after another after another because he wishes only to be a good teammate with good grades, and he wishes to win as often as possible.
“Everything I do as far as (community) service projects are things I do because I feel it’s the right thing to do,” the senior admitted. “I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else, and if I can help someone in need, then that’s what I want to do. Listen! I just play basketball and work hard in class, but sometimes I’m on the news, and people know me from that.
“I know that people look to me for leadership, and that’s why, when I’m on the court, I’m playing hard because my teammates will, too,” the senior said. “In a positive way, I like that I can inspire my teammates to do better. That goes for off the court, too, with my classmates.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that the compliments will cease to flow in his direction any time soon.
“The admiration that I have for the Harler family is a tribute to his mother and father because they have kept him out of harm’s way by being wonderful parents who have a great relationship with their son,” Young said. “I have experienced a lot through the years with many student/athletes, and without a doubt Chase is one of the most dynamic individuals I’ve encountered.
“He personifies what we as administrators and coaches and parents want from the rest of the student body, and it’s been a great experience having him here at Wheeling Central,” he continued. You know, we are very proud of what we do here at Central, and he’s a big part of that right now because the impact that he’s made on people has been amazing.”
‘LET’S GO’ … ‘MOUNTAINEERS!’
“I did play flag football but never tackle football, and I did play baseball through eighth grade, but it was too slow for me,” Harler admitted. “In basketball, if you mess up, you can turn around three seconds later and make up for it. It’s that fast pace of basketball that really attracted me to it.”
Oh, he’s made up for it all right.
Harler toppled the 2,000-point mark midway through the Maroon Knights’ season, an accomplishment made possible because he gained considerable playing time as a frosh member of the 2012-2013 team. He added 27 more points to his career total during Wheeling Central’s 70-57 victory of Shadyside in the double-A OVAC semifinal to advance to this afternoon’s final at Ohio University Eastern.
But following the Maroon Knights’ quest for yet another Class A Mountain State title in March, Harler will alter his attention to becoming a factor in West Virginia’s Big 12 basketball program.
“I believe he’s made a great decision about going to WVU. It’s where he’s always wanted to go, and he’s worked very hard to be able to achieve that,” said Coach Stephens, winner of five state championships in his 13 years as head coach and two more as an assistant. “And that’s been an example I’ve seen the other team members notice because maybe they wouldn’t be able to get to WVU, but by working hard, they can get somewhere to continue their careers.
“I think he can go down to Morgantown and make an impact right away,” he continued. “At Wheeling Central, his role has changed a little each year because of the other players, and that’s something that will continue to change a little each season at West Virginia. But the open-floor style that West Virginia uses is definitely something he’s very capable of performing in at a very high level.”
Academics are on his radar, too, and Harler was set to fixate his education on his mother’s trade of dentistry prior to his senior year, but that changed soon after attending his first finance class instructed by teacher/coach Jamie Conlin.
“The numbers just seemed to grab me,” he explained. “I just found it all very interesting and couldn’t wait for the next class. That’s how I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Although the recruiters began contacting Harler’s father soon after the completion of his sophomore season, Harler has insisted all the while that he wished to wear the blue and gold of West Virginia. Many offers rolled in, too, but nothing from WVU until the summer of 2014.
“My first offer was from Marshall,” Harler recalled. “And then the following summer I played AAU ball and played at a very high level, and that’s when the recruiting really got busy.
“But deep down inside I always dreamed of going to WVU and playing basketball for the Mountaineers and Bob Huggins,” he admitted. “That summer I played a really good team with a few D-I players on it, and we were getting beat by 30. Then I decided to step it up, and we actually came back against them. We still lost, but we made it close.
“WVU (coaches) was at that game, and that was the first time Huggins saw me play. His people contacted my dad after that, and they invited me to the Elite Camp,” he continued. “I had a pretty good day one of Elite Camp, and then on the second day he called me to his office and made the offer, and I verbally committed right then. I wanted my recruitment to end because that’s always where I wanted to go.”
Huggins started his college head-coaching career in 1980 at Walsh College and three jobs and 27 years later he returned to WVU, where he played point guard from 1975-77. In nine seasons thus far, Huggins is 194-104 (.651) and has collected 784 career victories.
“I think he’s a great coach who obviously is going to be a Hall of Famer,” Harler said. “When you watch him on TV you might think he just yells to yell, but I know he’s yelling for a reason. There’s another side of him, and I have seen it.
“I feel I can go in there and make some shots and spread the floor for them, and at the same time I believe I can be a pretty good defender for them, too,” he continued. “I think some may think I’m just a 6-3, 190-pound white kid from a single-A school who can’t guard anybody, but I feel differently, and I look forward to proving that once I get down there.”
For now, though, it’s quarter-to-quarter and one game at a time.
The Caldwell Redskins improved their record to 14-4 with a 55-54 overtime victory over Toronto this past week to advance to today’s final at Ohio University Eastern, and as far as the state tournament is concerned the gorilla in the room has been Magnolia High since the Blue Eagles dropped to single-A a few years ago.
“I know going into games that I’m probably going to be the one the other teams concentrate on, and yes, sometimes, I force it a little bit. But I also know that if I am double-teamed, that one of my teammates will be open, and I’m confident enough to get him the ball,” Harler said. “I’ve always been a team player, so if another team is going to double-team me then that’s advantage for our team.
“We have a great team, and we have a lot of players who can make great plays, so if I’m the center of their attention, our team is still going to make a play,” he said. “Winning isn’t about how many points I score. Winning is about how many points our team scores.”
(Photos provided by the Harler family)