He's had a long, productive affiliation with the Norristown High wrestling program, both as a competitor and coach.
Now, Mark Harner will be bring his mat expertise literally closer to home this winter. Harner was named the new varsity head coach for Methacton's wrestling team during the school board's meeting Tuesday, Sept. 29; he will replace Tony Haley, who stepped away from the program to fill a similar vacancy at Boyertown.
"One thing with Methacton, it has more things in place," Harner said. "Plus, it's only 2-1/2 miles from my home."
Harner becomes Methacton's third head coach in as many seasons. Haley, who headed the program for two years in the 2000s (2002-04) - he was an assistant at Boyertown 11 years (2008-19) - came back to fill the vacancy left by another Warrior mat alumnus, Brad Clark, who left in 2019 after just two seasons.
"We are super excited and feel very fortunate to have landed a head wrestling coach with the background and pedigree that Mark brings with him," Methacton athletic director Paul Spiewak said in a statement. "It is very clear that he is passionate about wrestling and equally as passionate about Methacton Athletics.
"We are searching for stability within the position of head wrestling coach," Spiewak added, "and all indications point towards Mark being dedicated to being at Methacton for years to come."
The 1978 Norristown graduate wrestled varsity two years with the Eagles. He had a 28-15-3 career record, highlighted by a senior season that saw him claim 138-pound silver medals at District 1 sectional and District 1-AAA North, qualifying for the South East AAA Regional tournament in the process.
Returning to coach his alma mater for the 2004-05 season, Harner compiled a 168-123 match record through 16 years, 59-39 in league matches. The Eagles had a four-year (2008-13) run of being unbeaten in 26 Suburban One League matches, and they were also unbeaten in the league during the 2015-16 campaign.
Harner's tenure at Norristown was highlighted by a four-year run (2008-13) when its teams were unbeaten in 26 league matches. The program was also unbeaten in the league in 2015-16.
"The Norristown administration and athletic director were great," Harner said of his coaching tenure. "They showed good support and gave us a lot of freedom."
One downside in the program, however, became the level of interest displayed by wrestlers' families and the community.
"There's not a whole lot of parent involvement," Harner said. "It's few and far between. It's waned over last 6-7 years.
"Support from the community is not there," he added. "The kids are good, they put in a lot of hard work."
Norristown's best single season in team terms was 2008-09, when the Eagles went 20-4. It won its first Suburban One League championship, finished first in the team standings in the District 1-AAA Section 3 tournament and District 1-AAA North, with seven wrestlers medalling at districts and five advancing to the South East AAA Regional.
"The program had a lot of district qualifiers," Harner recalled.
Another memorable season for Norristown was 2010-11, during which the Eagles won their first regional team title - it had two champions and two runners-up among six medalists - and advanced four to the PIAA Class AAA Championships. Harner's younger son, Brett, finished fourth at 152 at Hershey while Zach Fuentes scored another fourth at 103.
Brett also headed a six-wrestler contingent to states in 2012. He finished third at 160, the third of four state medalists he claimed in a career that saw him win 190 bouts and three championships at District 1-AAA North and South East AAA Region. It all helped the Eagles finish fourth in the team standings at states.
Harner's older son, Tim, made his mark with Norristown wrestling in the early 2000s. Currently head coach of Upper Merion's mat program, Tim, wrestling between 103 and 119, was a three-time state medalist with two thirds to his credit. He was also a three-time champion at the regional, district and sectional levels and ended his career with 168 wins.
"I took the (Norristown) job when my older son was in college," Harner recalled. "My years with Brett were limited. I missed his college career."
Understandably, Harner is looking forward to working with the Methacton program first chance he can get.
"I just want to meet with the kids," he said. "The coaching staff is still the same, with guys like Chris Lloyd back."
He is, however, looking at a heavily underclass roster. Stars like Kibwe McNair and Roman Moser graduated with the Class of 2020, and no juniors are moving up from a team that went 3-12 last winter, winless in five Pioneer Athletic Conference matches.
"We won't have a senior on the team unless someone comes out," he said. "But it's going to be fun. I want to turn the program around, and for the community to be involved. I'm in it for the long haul, I've done it for quite some time."
That's the hope with the district.
"We have a legacy of high level wrestling here at Methacton," Spiewak said, "and our current wrestlers deserve a head coach that is committed to them for the long haul. We believe Mark Harner is that guy for the Warrior wrestling program."