Prep athlete plays 5 sports with 1 1/2 arms

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 28, 2005

The Associated Press

MEDINA - He's a five-sport athlete with 1 1/2 arms.

''I've always loved sports,'' said Nick Harpley, 16, a junior at Highland High School near this northeast Ohio community.

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''They've been a big part of my life. Other people might, but I don't see my arm as a hindrance at all. I've always been able to adapt.''

Harpley, who has played baseball, basketball, football, soccer and tennis, was born with a full-length left arm but a right arm that ends just above where an elbow should be.

When he played Little League, Harpley was a pitcher and second baseman, quickly learning how to flip off his glove so he could throw the ball.

Swinging one-handed, he managed his share of singles.

''I played until fifth grade, when I realized that slapping the ball and hitting singles would be all I'd ever be able to do,'' Harpley said. ''In baseball, you really need the strength of both arms for power.''

He did better at soccer, playing for nine years, from ages 3 to 12.

Basketball always has been Harpley's favorite - whether playing for Highland's junior-varsity team or in a church recreational league.

''He's been playing since he could walk,'' his mother, Judy Harpley, said. Last spring, he was named the most valuable player of the league at St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church in Broadview Heights near Cleveland.

''Anytime Nick first shows up for a team, a lot of people want to do the right thing, and say, 'Oh, of course you can play,''' Judy Harpley said. ''Then, they're usually surprised how good he is, and he wins them over.''

That happened last year, as Harpley learned he was a quick study at tennis, playing No. 1 singles for his school team.

This basketball season, he was a starter on the Hornets' junior-varsity team at guard/small forward. His season was cut short, when Harpley learned that a gym class he was taking only counted as one-quarter of a credit instead of a half credit, leaving him ineligible to finish the last four games.

''It was an oversight by quite a few people,'' Highland junior-varsity coach Adam Cestaro said. ''Yeah, we had to forfeit (14) games. But the thing that really stinks is Nick can't play anymore.

Harpley's mother believes her son will bounce back from the disqualification.

''He's spent his life trying to figure out, 'How can I do this?''' Judy Harpley said. ''It may not be in a conventional manner, but he'll find a way.''