COLONIAL BEACH, Va. (EYT/D9) – Imagine missing your final two college seasons of a sport?
Certainly, it is something that is and never will be fun. However, for Cranberry, Pa., native Harrison Keenan, missing his final two seasons of college track and field will not and has not defined the success he has had as a runner and the passion that still remains for the sport.
(Photo courtesy of Westminster College Athletics)
As a youngster, he was a frequent attendee of his father’s cross-country practices at the Franklin Area School District. It was here that his interest in the sport really began with his first competitive race happening in 2007 at Apple Fest.
“I started racing at a pretty young age, but then I took a break from it until junior high cross-country,” Keenan said. “After that, I did not have more than a couple days break until after college running had ended. I only really broke the streak and my routine because of student teaching this past spring.”
In the spring of 2020, the NCAA canceled spring competition because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spring of 2021 was shaping up to be a final hoorah for Keenan who also missed his final season of cross-country this past fall, as well, also because of the pandemic. However, the President’s Athletic Conference Cross Country Championships would ultimately be the last of his college career because his student teaching schedule would cause him to miss too many practices and time in order to compete.
Instead of dwelling on this rough ending to his college athletic career, he decided to start giving back to the next generation of runners as an assistant coach for the Hickory School District Jr. High track and field program.
“I really had an awesome experience at Hickory,” Keenan said. “I taught seniors history and had a fantastic experience coaching track and field. The seniors and I really bonded well at Hickory because we were both seniors at the same time and could both understand having their senior years altered.”
In late July, Keenan accepted his first full-time teaching job as a sixth-grade teacher in the Colonial Beach School District in Virginia. The school is a similar size to Cranberry, but unlike Cranberry High, which has a strong running tradition, the school does not offer varsity or junior high cross country or track and field. One goal that Keenan has in mind is to establish a running club for the school district and, someday, possibly help cross-country and track and field to become a varsity-sponsored sport.
“There are so many great runs here in this town, and I have only been here for a few weeks,” Keenan said. “I really hope I can help kids find a love for the sport and maybe even coach for the school or another area school district with a program some day.”
On July 27, Keenan officially was offered and accepted the role he is in now, and by July 29, he had a place to live and moved all of his belongings into his new pad to begin his job on August 2.
This gave Keenan approximately one week to get ready for the school year that begins Monday. As can be seen, it has been a busy few weeks and he has his family to thank for helping him to make this work.
“I really have my parents (Marcie and Joe) to thank who are so supportive and are willing to work with me to help me achieve my goals,” Keenan said. “I also credit my dad for being my number one role model in running and life. He ran so many workouts with me during high school, and it actually caused him to break his foot when I was in high school. He just enjoys coaching so much and has made such a difference in my running career and my career path.”
One unique aspect of his journey through his running career is he got to compete alongside his twin sister, Maddie, the entire way from junior high and into college. The Keenan twins relied on each other through the highs and lows of running and college life and now both are Westminster College graduates and were able to make their mark on campus in athletics and in other extracurriculars.
“She was always someone I could sit down with to talk things out,” he said. “We analyzed running together and just having her by my side was an awesome and unique experience.”
Growing up in Cranberry with a great deal of farmland and wilderness and no varsity football program of their own, running has become the biggest fall sport for the Berries thanks to the hard work and dedication of many student-athletes, but mostly because of the hard work of longtime Cranberry cross-country coach Keith Siverling.
“He (Coach Siverling) knows how to push runners and get the most out of everyone,” Keenan said. “He is great at building up a team-first aspect of running and usually hosts a training camp at Camp Kauffman to help the team get ready for the season. He still does an amazing job.”
Under the direction of Siverling, Keenan became the first runner in Cranberry history to win a medal at states. Kennan ended his high school career with two medals as he finished 16 his junior year and 23 his senior year. He also was an eight-time letter winner between cross-country and track and field. He would go on to win six letters as a Westminster Titan student-athlete and also was a four-year member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity.
Looking back on his days as a regularly competitive runner, his favorite memories include being the first individual state medalist in Cranberry cross-country history alongside his teammate Sam Lander and seeing the joy it brought his high school coach Keith Siverling.
“Him telling us was one of the most unforgettable feelings and moments for me as a runner,” he said. “He has been coaching since the 1980’s, and the tears and smile on his face when he told us that just made me so proud.”
He also lists “Waterworks Wednesday” hill workouts as some of his favorite memories for being able to overcome the tough terrain and push himself every Wednesday no matter if they had a meet the day before or not.
Unquestionably, it has been a strange last three semesters of college for everyone, but for Harrison Keenan, he, unfortunately, did not get the ending he wanted as a college athlete. Regardless, he has come to terms with it and chooses to look forward to the opportunity to coach and help shape young people in a positive way as an educator. His passion for running started in Venango County, but his love for the sport of running is something without boundaries.