BY MELANIE BUCK –
Looking for a place to settle down that would be closer to his wife’s parents, Tim Harper chose Mena as his place to call home, and as Bearcat players and fans have discovered, there is no place like home.
Being hired as Head Football Coach for Mena High School in 2013 and becoming Athletic Director in 2014, Harper said he felt “like the Lord led me here” from the beginning. He saw potential in the team and decided to take the position. Harper, a pastor for 15 years, is also head pastor at Faith Missionary Baptist Church in Mena. And, true to southern roots, in the Harper household, priorities are God, family, and football, a mixture that is welcome in Mena.
Harpers story begins in Tampa, Florida where as a boy living with his mother, he began to turn the wrong direction, running with the wrong crowd, and finding trouble. He moved to live with his father that same year. “I didn’t get to play football until I was a tenth-grader. I didn’t have the privilege of playing any youth sports at all. I grew up always wanting to play sports. When I was 15, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and personal Savior on a Wednesday night in Tampa, Florida. On that Saturday, I was moving to Benton, Arkansas to live with my Dad.” His dad told him, ‘If you do good in school, I’ll let you play sports.’ “To me, sports and the Lord have always gone hand in hand. It’s kinda been like I couldn’t do one thing without the other. The more I tried to do right serving the Lord, the more He seemed to bless me on the field or on the track,” Harper explained.
Turning from trouble to triumph through sports is something that Harper aspired to teach others. He went on to graduate from Bryant High School and attended college at UCA in Conway for three years before transferring to Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. Harper ran track and played football while in college. He was an athlete and a servant of God and gained the license to teach both.
He found his wife of 21 years, Amanda, and had two daughters, Taylor, 16 and Alex, 11. “I think God knew I’d be hard on any boys I had so he gave me two girls and I’m thankful. My wife and girls don’t call the boys my ‘football players,’ they call them ‘daddy’s boys’ and that’s the way I look at them.”
He’s now been coaching for 21 years, spending 16 of those years in the classroom as well, teaching social studies and civics. He and his teams made the state playoffs 11 years in a row in his 15 years as a head coach. He took one team to state in 2008 and lost the bid in the last .004 seconds when the opposition kicked a field goal.
Harper explained what he believes is the secret to the Bearcats’ success, “I believe the seniors last year laid the foundation for this year. This year, instead of backing up, we started right where we left off. We had a phenomenal off-season, a great work ethic. We’ve doubled our time in the weight room. That’s one of the biggest differences between last year and this year, we’re physically able to match up better.”
“We use the 3 T’s; trust, teamwork, and tenacity. When you can get kids to start counting on one another and trusting one another, the team works together and then they just lay their heart out every Friday night. Harper said, “At first I measured my success like most people, wins and losses. But, the older I’ve gotten and the more the Lord has blessed me, I’ve realized sometimes the wins aren’t on a scoreboard, they’re in a young man’s heart.”
Harper also talked of how important it is to ‘lift the boys up’ instead of tearing them down. A concept he has conveyed to parents, asking them to encourage the boys. “I’m proud of the team. I like picking teams that aren’t necessarily the most physically talented but they buy into the ‘team concept’ and they work extremely hard,” stated Harper.
“These boys teach me a lot. They keep things real. I feel like they’re my ministry. I’m thankful for a church that allows me to participate in these young men’s lives. It may not always be pretty the way I try to teach them, and talk to them, and deal with them. It may not always be what mommas and daddies would wish I’d do it, but I can promise you, it’s always their best interest at heart.”
Harper and his family enjoy living in Mena and becoming a part of the tight-knit community. He expressed how grateful he is for his coaching staff, Craig Bentley Defensive Coordinator, Cody Alexander, Kevin Bledsoe, Lantz Castleman, Aaron Pennington, and Pete Rose. “These guys work hard. They all work hard and work together. I’m thankful for every one of them.”
“I just want to say thank you to each and everyone that has cheered for them this year. Hopefully, we can come back with a win. These boys have had great resolve all year and I don’t expect them to be overwhelmed by this situation.”
Coach Harper will lead the Mena Bearcats into their first State Championship Game since 1976 when the trophy was brought home. The Bearcats will face the Warren Lumberjacks in War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock at high noon on Saturday, December 13.