Editor's Note: Newsday.com is catching up with former Long Island prom kings and queens to reflect on being named royalty and see what they're up to now. If you're a former Long Island high school prom king or queen and would like to participate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It all started when Gary Harding opened his mouth. As a junior at Division Avenue High School, he noticed that his class was a little underprepared leading up to prom night.
“Turns out that I am not, by any stretch of imagination, decorative or organized with building sets and things like that,” Harding said. “But we were six weeks away from prom and it turned out there wasn’t much done… I said, ‘What are we doing here? We’re not going to have anything finished.’ I kind of pushed the envelope and got everything done, and because of that, I think that’s why I was voted prom king.”
Harding, who was a competitive swimmer and bowler at Division Avenue, was crowned junior prom king in 1980. He never considered himself popular -- in fact, he puts himself in the “semi-geek category.” But as an outspoken teen, his peers often followed his lead.
“I just remember thinking, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me,’” Harding said, thinking back on receiving the crown in the school’s gymnasium.
Harding graduated from high school in 1981, and got involved with the New York Islanders Booster Club in the late ‘80s. Harding was a season ticket holder all the way up until the team left their Nassau Coliseum home for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
He attended away games, too, traveling across the country and even to Canada with the Booster Club. During one overnight trip to Montreal in the early '90s, Harding was hanging out in the back of the bus with one of his buddies. He remembers the two of them running their mouths and playing video games at 2 a.m., until someone sitting across the aisle turned around and said to him, “Would you mind shutting up? There are people trying to sleep on this bus.”
That turned out to be Claire, a New Hyde Park Memorial High School alumnus who he'd later marry.
“She doesn’t remember saying that,” Harding said with a laugh. “But I remember like it was yesterday.”
Their first date was at an Islanders game against the Hartford Whalers in Connecticut, and the Halesite residents have been married for 11 years. Harding now works as financial analyst with OpenLink Financial LLC in Uniondale. His gift for gab also landed him a part-time gig as a sports radio talk show host, which he does for WGBB-AM in West Babylon.
Claire said she wasn't surprised when she first learned that her husband was junior prom king. "It’s hard to know what somebody was like when they were younger," she said. "But he has the confidence and he is an outgoing person, and has a lot of friends. He is still in contact with a lot of his friends back from high school days."
Harding recently went to his first high school reunion and wishes he had attended more of them.
“That reconnection, getting back to people you obviously haven’t seen in so many years," he said, "it was a real nice eye-opener.”