Bryce and Kayla Harper certainly played ball when it came to their wedding. For years, the couple navigated and weathered challenges that typically accompany professional athletes’ demanding schedules; Hence, why their December 2016 wedding solicited a range of emotions.
“I cried all day long,” former Washington Nationals player Harper tells The Knot in an exclusive interview. “He cried all day long,” his wife confirms.
Harper, arguably one of the most prolific players to currently take bat in the sport, was ushered into the major leagues in 2010 as the No. 1 overall draft pick. Later, he emerged as an MLB MVP and an All-Star. But long before the fanfare and the contract that accompanies any professional sport, he was a freshman in high school like Varner. “She’s known me for so long that she knows when I’m upset or going through something hard,” Harper reflects. “But we make it fun.”
“He’s this big, professional baseball player and you would never know it off the field because he treats everyone with respect and is genuine,” Varner says of her husband. “He’s selfless, the most selfless guy ever… I think that’s what always attracted me to him. And he’s goofy and funny—he loves to play pranks on me, and as much as I get annoyed by it, I secretly love it—he’s just the best. I love him.”
As practicing Mormons, the couple sought to seal their marriage within a Church of Latter-day Saints-approved temple. “I dreamt of being sealed in the San Diego Temple, and Bryce agreed that this was the right place for us,” Varner says. Mormon couples who want to marry in an LDS temple must first receive permission from a bishop. Once approved, the bride and groom will then partake in a ritual typically only open to LDS members known as the “Sealing Ordinance.” There are no personalized vows, ring ceremonies, or traditional “walks” down the aisle. Instead, there’s faith, spirituality and intimacy.
“Religion was obviously the most important part of our marriage,” says Varner. “The temple marriage is very sacred. Our religion is very private, and only certain people can attend the ceremony. So it was really nice to just enjoy that with our immediate family.”
On the day of the wedding, it poured. “By pour, I mean it rained for a few days straight at historic levels,” says Varner. “With no break in the weather, we chose to embrace Mother Nature instead. By the end of the first look and ceremony portraits, the train on my dress was muddy and sooted.” Her husband adds, “The weather didn’t make us change anything, and the pictures turned out beautifully.”
Photographer India Earl captured Harper’s raw reaction during the first look session, which included the 6’4” athlete in complete awe with his face buried in his hands. “I was very excited and overwhelmed with emotion—just the whole process and getting everything done and finally seeing my bride and wife,” Harper says.
He pauses. “You know, you dream about things like that.”
The couple’s reception—held on San Diego’s iconic Polo Fields and planned by When Pigs Fly Events—was a significantly larger spectacle. “It helps to get married in a chapel because you don’t have to plan the actual ceremony part. It’s very private,” says Harper. “Then, you just have to plan a huge party for your guests.”
The bride and groom incorporated modern wedding elements into their reception for their nearly 270 guests. “We made a grand entrance at the reception and then, we had a quick ring ceremony… We did it on the middle of the dance floor surrounded by our bridal party and all of our family and friends,” Varner says. The newlyweds also showed a video from their ceremony held earlier that day. “My grandpa explained what we did in the temple, and then, we actually had our videographer do a same-day edit,” the bride says. “So he kind of gave a little video of us at the temple so people could get a little piece of that too.”
Most impressively, the couple commissioned an actual barn on the polo fields, which offered a clean slate for the pair to execute their vision. “We couldn’t find a barn large enough to host our party near La Jolla,” Varner says. “Since we couldn’t find one, we made our own instead.”
The couple implemented touches of their faith and their personal interests (for one—sports) into the reception decor, which included an inscribed soccer ball and a vintage baseball scoreboard. Cuckoo clocks that read “For Time and All Eternity”—a saying in the Church of Latter-day Saints, which believes that marriage binds couples for all eternity—were placed throughout the space.
Another important element was ensuring that the reception was unplugged. “We didn’t want any cell phones, and not for the ‘no pictures’ element,” Harper says. “We [wanted] people to enjoy it and to actually talk to each other. You know, me and Kayla are very into communication… So our wedding was great with that. We sat with everyone at different tables and really brought [our guests] together and they enjoyed it. Everyone danced and hung out, and they talked. It was fantastic.”
In retrospect, the final moments of the day were the best. “We actually did a last dance and everybody cleared out. Yeah, it was just the two of us in the whole place,” says Harper. His wife adds, “We kicked out all the caterers, the wedding planner, the DJ, and had our last dance just being Mr. and Mrs. Harper… It was definitely my favorite moment by far.”
See more details below.
The Ceremony Site
The San Diego Latter-day Saints Temple was the couple’s first choice to seal their marriage. “It was never much of a thought as to where we would have our ceremony,” Varner reflects.
The Reception Site
The San Diego Polo Fields, like the ceremony site, held sentimental value. “I played soccer there growing up, so I have fond memories of the space as a child,” says Varner, who played Division I soccer in college. “It was special to get married somewhere familiar.”
Courtney Stone and Kelly Morgan of When Pigs Fly Events planned, designed and coordinated the entire wedding.
“Their attention to detail and their organization with everything was second to none,” Varner says. “Every recommendation that they gave us was perfect and we never had to worry about anything going wrong because they had everything covered so well. I honestly couldn’t imagine using anyone else and we will definitely use them in the future for other events.” The two used Mackenzie Anne Productions for day of coordinating support.
“We wanted a lush and romantic floral design that had a wintry feel but in a very nondescript way. There was no sentimental significance to our arrangements,” the bride recalls. The bouquet by Layers of Lovely was comprised of blush peonies, champagne roses, garden roses, spray roses, blue ranunculus, berries, Japanese sweet peas, and hellebore. Mixed greens helped offset the variety of bountiful flowers.
India Earl, who shot Dancing With the Stars pro Witney Carson’s winter 2016 nuptials, was the first pick for photographer. “We liked her coloring and how intimate her pictures felt. They were real,” Varner says. “They didn’t feel posed, all of her pictures were awesome.” Harper adds, “We definitely thought it was going to rain on our wedding day so we thought the photos should be the best.”
Salt Lake City-based designer Penelope Perkins designed a fit-and-flare dress comprised of lace and beading, accompanied by a matching cathedral-length veil. The bottom of the gown got dirty during photos outside of the temple, but the tiny snafu was met with a quick fix. “Somehow, the hotel was able to dry clean my dress in an hour that day,” says Varner, “and I had a somewhat clean (and dry) dress for the reception.” The bride wore shoes by Jimmy Choo, more accessories by Jason of Beverly Hills, and the celeb-beloved “Mrs” ring by designer Alison Lou.
The groom wanted the first look to be special for his wife too, so he planned accordingly. Harper generated headlines when he tweeted his custom suit by Stitched, which was lined with photos from the couple’s engagement session. “Everyone was pretty shocked and the whole wedding people were coming up asking to see the inside of my suit,” he says with pride.
“It really made me excited and it was super cool to have all of those engagement pictures on his wedding tux because I mean who gets that?” says his wife. “Nobody.”
The Wedding Party
Eight of the bride’s best friends joined the party in silver beaded gowns by Adrianna Papell. Harper’s eight groomsmen wore custom navy blue suits also by Stitched Las Vegas.
The couple wanted their custom invitations by She Paperie to have an antiqued-but-modern aesthetic. “We had a beautiful custom invitation suite that featured a pocket with our monogram in copper foiling,” Varner says. “Many of our pieces from our stationary included hand torn edges.”
The couple asked Stephanie B Design to create mini rosemary wreaths with a dip-dyed tag and calligraphy print for their escort cards. “It was a fun wintry touch since our wedding was so close to the holidays,” says the bride.
The Music and the Entertainment
The couple’s first dance song was “You Got What I Need” by Josh Radin—and the artist was there to sing it. “Bryce and I first heard our first dance song in a movie we were watching a few years back and completely fell in love with it,” Varner says. “He surprised me.” The couple’s guests got down to a DJ’s variety of country and pop hits.
“We really love food, and we wanted our food to be the best thing there,” Harper tells The Knot. “And of course you want your venue to be good especially for all your guests.” The couple hired Miho Catering Co., to craft a menu reminiscent of their first date at a Mexican restaurant in Vegas.
“We relish in the chance to try new restaurants all over the country,” the self-proclaimed foodies tell The Knot. The couple served passed bites like chicken and waffles and salami flatbread, and had a raw bar and nacho bar during their “mocktail hour.” For dinner, the pair served all different types of varieties of tacos, and even served cheesesteak sliders as a late night snack.
There’s no denying this couple’s love of donuts and sweets. Harper and Varner went with a donut cake from VG Donut and Bakery, along with their donut wall. The pair also served churro and hot chocolate bars which included options like vanilla bean ice cream, s’mores and more.
“I love him because he believes he is allergic to walnuts and pecans because I am,” Varner says.
For more standout moments from the couple’s wedding, pick up a copy of The Knot Fall 2017 issue, on stands now.