Red Hook's Harrison delivers on farm, on court

Red Hook's Harrison delivers on farm, on court

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Red Hook's Harrison delivers on farm, on court

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Red Hook basketball player Kalie Harrison tending to sheep on her family's Tivoli farm on Jan. 16.

Red Hook basketball player Kalie Harrison tending to sheep on her family’s Tivoli farm on Jan. 16.

Kalie had a little lamb

Its fleece as white as snow

And everywhere that Kalie went

The lamb was sure to go

That isn’t so much a nursery rhyme as it is a description of Kalie Harrison’s life away from school and athletics. The lamb’s name is Chubs, by the way.

Harrison, a Red Hook High School senior, has grown up on her family’s farm in Tivoli. And on that farm the Harrisons raise livestock including cows, chickens, pigs, rabbits, ducks, a horse and lots of sheep.

(An “E-I-E-I-O” would almost seem fitting.)

Kalie Harrison is enjoying a breakout season as a scorer and playmaker for the girls basketball team, which is among the title contenders. But, like many scholastic athletes in northern Dutchess County, she juggles those responsibilities with schoolwork, homework and farm work.

“It’s really exhausting,” she said. “I don’t have much time to hang out with friends, but I don’t mind it. This is what I’ve grown up with so it’s what I’m used to.”

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Harrison rises early each morning — literally before the rooster crows — and helps her mom feed the animals. She will then perform a routine check to ensure the lambs are OK before heading to school in time for a 7:15 a.m. breakfast before first period. By the afternoon, she has completed a day’s work, and basketball practice hasn’t even begun.

“I think the farming background helps her bring a toughness and tireless work ethic to the game,” Raiders coach Andrew Makebish said. “She’ll go to the basket hard, dive for loose balls and we can count on her to do whatever it takes.”

Granted, concessions do occasionally have to be made. Teammate Megan Jankowiak joked about a day last season when Kalie and her older sister, Taylor, informed the team that they would be running late for practice… because a ewe went into labor.

Indeed, Harrison’s responsibilities do include animal midwifery.

“That’s the most original excuse you’ll hear for having to miss practice time,” Makebish said with a grin. “Sheep are having babies. What can you say to that?”

Red Hook basketball player Kalie Harrison poses with her parents, Geoff and Julie Harrison, inside their barn in Tivoli.

Red Hook basketball player Kalie Harrison poses with her parents, Geoff and Julie Harrison, inside their barn in Tivoli.

Harrison has helped deliver a number of lambs. And, similar to the birth of a human child, she said, there is excitement abound when a new life is welcomed.

Several parts of northern Dutchess County are rural, with farms littering the area. It isn’t unusual to find families that are into agriculture.

Close to 300 area children who raise animals participated in a 4-H animal show at the Dutchess County Fair last year, and about 400 kids are involved in the organization’s youth programs.

“I thought about getting into it when I was younger,” Red Hook teammate Shawna Terry said. “I wanted to raise horses, but it’s a lot tougher than it seems. I couldn’t do it for long.”

A flock at home

The Harrisons have more than 80 sheep now, and that number is soon to climb with lambing season upcoming in late winter. The team, Jankowiak said, will be on alert.

Because Kalie rears the sheep and trains them for shows — they are exhibited at the Dutchess County Fair and in national competitions — bonds with the animals are often developed. Sometimes that manifests in the sheep becoming attached and following her. The good shepherd.

Some of the animals her family owns are reared for food, others are sold locally, and some get “spoiled” and are primped for shows.

A sheep show, essentially, is a pageant in which the animals are judged on their grooming, posture and obedience. Kalie has traveled far as Kentucky for such competitions, and when she was 10, participated in the All-American Juniors show in Lansing, Michigan.

The Harrisons also have two piglets living in the house now, eventually to be raised as show pigs. Those, Kalie said, can grow to 800 pounds.

Jankowiak has worked at the Dutchess County Fair, entering information for show animals and their owners into databases. In that, she quipped, she has come across several memorable and entertaining sheep names — “If Looks Could Kale” and “Fair Acres Sunkist Cherry Blossom” among them.

Kalie Harrison keeps the names simple for hers. Chubs was fluffy and chubby as a newborn. Big Boy was their largest ram. And there’s Alex and Sammy and Cookie.

Arlington's Rachael Moran dribbles the ball as Red Hook's Kalie Harrison covers her during the Lisa Moray Memorial Basketball Tournament.

Arlington’s Rachael Moran dribbles the ball as Red Hook’s Kalie Harrison covers her during the Lisa Moray Memorial Basketball Tournament.

“Some towns up here are rural and you see a lot of farms around,” said Makebish. He was raised in Red Hook and didn’t farm, but his wife lived on a farm in Paraguay, so he is somewhat familiar with the lifestyle. “Farming is a livelihood for a lot of people and it’s hard work.”

There were times in middle school, Kalie admitted, when she grew tired of the laborious chores. But that changed a few years ago, when she determined her potential career path. Harrison plans to major in Animal Science in college and aspires to become a veterinarian. She already has some firsthand experience, having injected medicine into sheep, hogs and a cow.

Over time, she has learned to determine their moods, read mannerisms and delineate sounds. Kalie can quickly spot a sick sheep. “Baa-ahh” doesn’t always mean the same thing.

A family lifestyle

Kalie’s mom, Julie, grew up rearing horses and, with some cajoling from a friend, eventually started a sheep farm. Her dad, Geoff Harrison, is a mechanic but “he married into” the farm life, Kalie said. He doesn’t do much farm work, but maintains and operates the tractor.

Of course there’s a tractor. The farm stretches over a 16-acre expanse that includes pastures, wooded areas and a stream.

The family purchases animals from breeders, mostly in the Midwest, and have gone as far as Illinois for livestock. The Harrisons eat only meat of animals they have raised and, Kalie said, whenever they’ve become too attached to one, it’s sold to avoid the potential moral dilemma of slaughter.

Kalie tries her best to keep the farmhand aspect of her life separate from the rest. She doesn’t talk much about agriculture with friends and rarely is there an overlap. Except when she wears cowgirl boots to school.

“But those are fashionable nowadays,” Jankowiak said. “Most people don’t think anything of it.”

Red Hook basketball player Kalie Harrison tends to the sheep on her family's farm.

Red Hook basketball player Kalie Harrison tends to the sheep on her family’s farm.

The converse doesn’t work as well. Her sister once wore a pair of UGG boots on the farm. To put it kindly, the designer shoes didn’t offer much traction in the mud.

Harrison always is able to make the quick switch to sneakers, though. This season the 5-foot-4 guard has emerged as a leader, one who provides constant encouragement to others, Terry said. As well, she has been a steady offensive force.

“She reads the court well and knows how to pick her spots,” said Jankowiak, a close friend of the Harrisons since elementary school. “She knows when to pass and when to shoot.”

Jessica Wilkinson, the Raiders’ explosive scorer, is closing in on 1,500 career points, and Janowiak and Alexa Franceschi anchor the post. But Harrison, who alternates between point and shooting guard, has been a key contributor with her penetrating drives, sharp cuts against zone defenses, and that high-arching perimeter shot.

Harrison scored 15 points in an overtime win against Highland last month, and dropped 22 to lead Red Hook over Arlington in the Lisa Moray Memorial Tournament in December.

“She’s someone who won’t wither in big moments,” Makebish said. “She has delivered under pressure before.”

Delivery under pressure? Without question. And there’s a barn full of sheep who would attest.

Stephen Haynes: shaynes@poughkeepsiejournal.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4

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