Lisle, Ill., ~ Sometimes when you take a friend up on a double-dog dare, extraordinary things can happen.
For Julie Harshbarger, C08, the dare has led to a professional career on the gridiron and the recognition as the first woman to kick a successful field goal in the history of indoor football.
Since her time as a student at Benedictine, Harshbarger has racked up awards for her kicking prowess as special teams player of the year in 2014 with the Chicago Blitz of the Continental Indoor Football League and again in 2015 with the Chicago Blitz of American Indoor Football.
“A friend of mine who was already playing football in high school asked me for kicking advice,” Harshbarger recalled. “At the time, I was a goalkeeper on the soccer team at Hononegah Community High School and could kick a ball really far. I told one of my best friends about the story and she double-dog-dared me to try out for the football team as a kicker.”
You would think Harshbarger’s friends or her doctors would have stepped in at some point begging her to reconsider going out for a sport known for high-impact collisions and populated by linemen almost twice her size.
But her friends and family expressed their full support. In the end, her coaches and teammates believed in her enough to put her on the roster at starting kicker.
“I’ll admit my mom was a little worried in the very beginning,” Harshbarger said. “Before I was born, she had already decided if she were to have a boy that he would not play football. But she supported me and even took me to that first tryout. My dad, on the other hand, was really excited when he found out I wanted to play.”
When her soccer coach accepted a position as head coach at Benedictine, she followed and enrolled at the University.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I have always enjoyed art,” Harshbarger said. “It runs on both sides of my family and it’s something that I have always been passionate about. I started researching Benedictine and was impressed by what I found. I decided to major in Studio Art so I could get a broader range of knowledge and touch on different art mediums.
“I enjoyed every art program that I took at Benedictine,” she added. “My professors helped me develop as an artist and they challenged me to do my best in and out of the classroom.”
While at Benedictine, she joined the football team to further strengthen her kicking skills and joined her first semiprofessional team, the Rockton Rush, in 2005.
Today, Harshbarger is a graphic designer for Fitch, Even, Tabin & Flannery LLP, a Chicago law firm that specializes in intellectual property.
No matter where her career took her, she remained intentionally grounded in football.
“In my head, not playing football was never an option – unless I had to sit out for an injury,” Harshbarger said. “Throughout college, I continued to play semiprofessionally in the off-season. It was great practice for me and it made summer weekends exciting. At that time, the Rockton Rush was one of the best teams in the league and always made the playoffs. With the Rush, I have been lucky enough to see two conference championship wins and have had the opportunity to play for two national titles.”
She became the first woman to kick a successful field goal in a professional indoor football game after sending a 24-yarder through the uprights for the Chicago Cardinals in a 69-45 loss to the Fort Wayne Firehawks in 2010.
“At the time, it didn’t occur to me what I was doing or what it meant,” Harshbarger recalled. “There was another woman named Katie Hnida (the first woman to score in an NCAA Division I-A game) kicking for the opposing team. She was sitting out that game due to an injury and I was so nervous because I wanted to play well in front of her.
An equally memorable play occurred last August when Harshbarger caught a pass from her Rockton Rush teammate, Danny Carter, for a 2-point conversion.
Carter is Harshbarger’s fiancé and a wide receiver who holds the ball for Harshbarger during field-goal and extra-point attempts. The play, and the story about the football-loving couple, made the sports news website Bleacher Report and was subsequently picked up by other news outlets.
She never thought of herself as someone who was advancing the role of women in sports. But she has signed more than a few autographs for girls who come to watch her play.
In 2000 (the year Harshbarger started playing football) only 673 high school girls participated in the sport. During the 2014-15 season, the number jumped to 1,698, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“When I first started playing, I didn’t see it like that at all,” Harshbarger said. “It was just something I loved to do. Now I would have to say yes (about being a role model). My message to everyone is to follow your dreams. If playing football is something you want to do or accomplish, don’t give up. You will never know how far you can go unless you try.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 9,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. A 2016 PayScale Inc. report ranked BenU one of the top 10 colleges in Illinois for return on investment and in the top 20 percent nationally. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.