New Harvard coaches set to begin

HARVARD – When Mark Payne originally applied for the Harvard wrestling position, he wasn’t aware of the school’s rich tradition in that sport.

Between Harvard athletic director and research, Payne soon learned.

“The more I read about it, I saw the bigger shoes that I’d have to fill, but that’s OK,” said Payne, who was officially hired as the Hornets wrestling coach at the District 50 school board meeting Wednesday night.

Sean Saylor also was hired as the Hornets new football coach. The two are replacing retiring coach and teacher Tim Haak, who is a member of both the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Illinois Wrestling Coaches and Officials Association Hall of Fame.

Saylor will teach physical education, while Payne will work as credit recovery teacher at District 50’s Harvard Academy. Haak coached the Hornets football team for 29 years and the wrestling team for 26.

“I’ve met a couple people from Harvard and being a football coach and enthusiast, I’ve seen the name and saw what Harvard’s done in the past,” Saylor said.

Both coaches look forward to meeting their predecessor. Payne already had added a link “Harvard Wrestling” to his web page,, on Thursday.

Payne recently coached in St. Clair, Mo. and at Manassas, Va. He and his wife Kristi moved back to Normal, his hometown, last year and he applied for the Harvard job. Payne wrestled at Normal Community and MacMurray College.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Payne said. “I’ve been head wrestling coach for eight years and one things I’ve always wanted is a strong youth program. I’ve worked very hard and spent a lot of time trying to make a lot out of a little. Knowing they have a strong youth system already set, I like that a lot.”

Saylor, 36, got his coaching start while he was attending Western Illinois University, as a volunteer assistant at Macomb High School. He also volunteered while student teaching in Springfield and took his first teaching and coaching jobs in Taylorville.

Saylor moved to Jacksonville and served as defensive coordinator when he was 23. He was head coach at Bartonville Limestone for two years, an assistant at Lake Forest and has been defensive coordinator at East Peoria for the last three seasons. He wants to bring his wife Jen to see the Harvard area again soon and meet coaches and players.

“I’m going to sit down with the coaching staff, the ones who want to stay, and evaluate our strengths and weaknesses and interests, and we’ll go from there,” Saylor said. “I want to get up there as soon as I can to meet everyone and get things in line for the summer.”

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