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Junior Blake Harmet (No. 84) pauses for the playing of the national anthem at Saturday's Hinsdale Central football game. He is in his third season as the team's student manager. | George M. Wilcox~Sun-Times Media.
After five weeks of the high school football season, junior Blake Harmet is the only student manager remaining for Hinsdale Central.
The Red Devils started the season with five students who help arrange and set up equipment, fill water bottles, position video cameras and help out on the sidelines at games and practices nearly every day since preseason practice began in early August.
But two managers recently quit and Harmet was forced to fire two others, who were regularly coming late to practices and leaving early.
Harmet is in his third season as a football manager and was the most experienced, as well. He started as a freshman when current coach Rich Tarka was an assistant coach under Mike DiMatteo.
“He’s the most dependable manager we’ve had in the last three years,” said Tarka, who is in his second season. “He helps us organize practices. He likes to be motivated.”
Even though Harmet is limited by his wheelchair, the Clarendon Hills resident doesn’t allow it to set limits.
He is the first person at practice before any of the players and one of the last to leave. He attends every game, riding in one of the three team buses to road games with a lift for wheelchair accessibility and shakes the hands of opposing players after games even if it means trudging his wheelchair through a thick grass field at Leyden.
“He’s a great manager,” Devils senior receiver Joe Herr said. “He gets everything done. The wheelchair never slows him down. He loves football and we love him.”
After home games, Hinsdale Central players walk through a narrow corridor and down a set a stairs to reach their locker room inside the school. Harmet takes the long way. On Saturday, he had to bang on an outside door to the fieldhouse for someone setting up the homecoming dance to let him in. He then wheeled himself through the fieldhouse and down a hallway to reach the school elevator, which leads to the locker room one floor below in the basement. After players leave, Harmet helps put equipment away.
“It’s work,” Harmet said. “I love doing it. I love being part of the team. It’s a ton of fun. I can’t imagine high school without being a manager.”
Harmet’s twin sister Sarah usually picks him up after games. Sarah is a member of the Devils track and field team.
Harmet plays wheelchair basketball and competes on the school’s bass fishing team.
He was born with spina bifida and has had 17 operations in his 16 years. He underwent five surgeries in his first week as an infant. He was born with club feet and his back was split open at the skin. He needed a shunt inserted into his head due to drain fluid buildup from hydrocephalus.
He has had four titanium rods inserted in his back since age 5 due to scoliosis. Two rods broke more than two years ago, which meant another surgery to repair those.
“My spine is like a question mark,” Harmet said.
Harmet doesn’t harbor any dreams of joining his classmates on the field. He seems very comfortable being Blake Harmet.
“I’m out with them. I know the players and they are all nice to me,” Harmet said. “I wear the jersey through the football season. I think that’s good enough.”~.