Vance Harmon was an All-Metro basketball player at Douglas Freeman High School. He and his family still live close enough to the school that from the front yard they can see the lights and hear the band for football games.
So with Freeman activities director Suzanne Criswell retiring in June, the timing of getting into administration at his alma mater seemed right after a 20-year run as one of the area’s most successful boys basketball coaches.
Harmon is moving from Henrico High to replace Criswell as the AD at Freeman. He’ll start in August. He’ll leave Henrico after 18 seasons with two state championships (2013 and 2015), a state runner-up finish (2014) and six state appearances.
“I’m excited and enthusiastic,” Harmon said. “It is getting to go back where you grew up [at Freeman].
“I spent 18 years at Henrico professionally, but I grew up in many ways at Henrico before I got into high school. It’s almost like having two homes.”
Harmon’s father, Ronnie, was an assistant coach at Henrico, and Harmon spent plenty of time in the gym there.
Criswell has been in education for 42 years. She started teaching at Freeman in 1987 and has been the AD the past seven years.
“I decided after 42 years that I had put in a good career,” she said. “I’ve got my fifth grandchild on the way, so I’m going to start watching the next generation participating in athletics and activities that they enjoy.”
Harmon kept the Freeman AD job in the back of his mind in recent years.
“It’s just the timing as much as anything,” he said. “I don’t know if there’s a better time or not to get into administration. I would have not enjoyed getting into administration any younger in my career, I can tell you that. … I wanted to be in the classroom. I wanted to be with the kids around school, on the sidewalk, in the gym.”
Harmon was an All-Metro pick at Freeman in 1988-89 and played at Virginia Union, becoming a member of the Panthers’ 1992 Division II national championship team.
After serving as an assistant at J.R. Tucker from 1994-2001, he became the head coach for two seasons before moving to Henrico, where he’s co-chair of the history department.
In 20 seasons overall, his teams went 372-128 (Henrico County schools did not play basketball this past season because of the pandemic). They made 16 regional appearances and won three regional championships.
“Vance has meant everything to literally everyone at this school,” said Henrico AD Rob Welch, who said a search for a new boys basketball coach will begin soon. “He’s just the ultimate professional in the classroom and on the court. He runs everything the right way.
“Vance has just been a do-it-all and a do-it-all correctly, probably from Day 1. … In the 14 years that I’ve been here, you could see it even when I was the athletic trainer, he just runs the program likes it’s a college.”
Harmon said he’ll miss the day-to-day relationships with his players and coaches because they become extended family. But he’s looking forward to taking over at Freeman, where his oldest daughter, Virginia-Anne, is a ninth-grader and plays three sports. He has a fifth-grader, Margaret, coming as well.
“It’ll be fun for us to have more time together,” he said.