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Taft High's Harrison Wynn has dreams that go far beyond volleyball

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

Sitting on the edge of his bed, Harrison Wynn looks up at headlines that spark his imagination: "The Electric Race Car." "The Rise of the Insect Drones." "20 Bold Ideas." "Flying Saucers." "American Energy Independence."

Plastered on the 17-year-old high school senior's bedroom wall are magazine covers from Popular Science and Popular Mechanic. Hanging behind his bed is a large print of a circa 1932 Lewis Hine photograph showing 11 iron workers having lunch from the 69th floor of the RCA Building in New York City, their feet dangling from a girder.

"Whenever I get bored, I look at these to get some inspiration," Wynn said. "Or I look back and think of industrial America."

Wynn is best known around Woodland Hills Taft High as a star volleyball player, but he is also a small business owner and double black belt in karate who has traveled extensively and loves to dirt bike, mountain bike, ski, wakeboard and cliff dive.

"I'm pretty much an adrenaline junkie," he said, also mentioning his plan to go skydiving when he turns 18 in January. "Anywhere I can do something crazy, I love to do."

Last Wednesday, the start of the early signing period for high school seniors who compete in winter and spring sports, could have been a milestone day for Wynn. An athletic scholarship would probably have been there for the taking.

Instead, his enthusiasm for adventure and relentless quest for knowledge had left Wynn at a crossroads as he contemplated potential college choices.

Everyone, including his father Billy and mother Tamara, expected him to continue his volleyball career.

But last June, shortly after he led Taft to the City Section Division II volleyball championship and was chosen the Division II player of the year, the 6-foot-3 Wynn stunned his parents with the news that the next volleyball season would be his last.

He spent days rehearsing his speech, and made sure he finished his meal of chicken and rice before telling them.

"I wanted one last nice dinner before," he said.

When his father briefly left the table in the kitchen, he told his mother, "I don't see volleyball in my future in college. I love the sport but I really want to focus on academics. I'm going to do great things. It's just not in volleyball."

Tamara started to cry.

"He's such a good athlete I thought he'd do both," she said.

She reminded him how good a player he was. Then his father came back to the table, heard what was happening and got very quiet.

"Our family saying is, 'Do a job, big or small, do it right or not at all,'" Wynn said. "I didn't want to have half of my heart in volleyball and not be fully there."

He has a 4.5 grade-point average, but on visits to Columbia, Purdue and New York University, his three top college choices, he witnessed the commitment of the students who wanted to become industrial engineers.

"The people are spending hours on projects, and I was like, 'How can I manage my time with volleyball?'" he said.

After their initial shock, Wynn's parents embraced their son's vision.

"He likes to invent things, come up with ideas," Tamara said. "He subscribes to the New Yorker. He thinks differently."

Wynn abandoned summer plans that would have him traveling around the country playing club volleyball. Instead, he launched a business that had first entered his mind when he was in fifth grade. He was studying the 2008 presidential election and heard then-Sen. Barack Obama give a speech about how people could do little things to save energy.

"Making sure your tires are properly inflated," Obama said, "simple thing."

Wynn began putting Obama's suggestion to action. He created a tire maintenance service, "hAIRrison's."

He bought a compressor, a 40-foot hose and a tire gauge. He created a website (Hairrisons.com), a logo, business cards and magnets. He got his mother to help him find insurance and filed the paperwork for a fictitious business name. Then he loaded the 200-pound compressor in the back of his 2014 Ford Raptor and went to the houses of friends and family members, charging $4 a car to check and inflate each tire to the proper level once a month.

"We lose almost $6 billion a year on deflated tires," Wynn said. "It's almost $1.9 billion of gas a year."

Studying comes before work, and Wynn is also still playing volleyball, using his 37-inch vertical leap to rise high above the net before he pounds balls high off the gym floor during an 8 a.m. class. As he plays, he screams so loudly and forcefully that no one would guess his days as a competitive athlete are numbered.

Then again, that's the way Wynn acts most days.

"He's one of those once-in-the-life kids," volleyball Coach Arman Mercado said. "Teachers will always ask me, 'Does Harrison ever have a down day?'"

His parents are preparing for his final season of volleyball, which commences in February.

"We're going to embrace this last year," Tamara said. "He's so fun to watch."

This month has been a busy one for Wynn, who is filling out college applications, studying religiously and preparing for his annual Thanksgiving dirt bike adventure at Red Rock Canyon Park in Mojave. As the signing period passed, he said he had no regrets. He still has big dreams and plans.

On a sweltering Sunday afternoon recently, Wynn wore a black tank top and black shorts while wiping away sweat dripping from his face as he crouched in a customer's garage and inflated a car tire.

"One day, I'll be sipping my pina colada out on the beach," he said as he turned a tiny black tire cap, "but you got to start somewhere."

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATSondheimer

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on November 17, 2015, in the Sports section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Beyond athletics - Taft High star player Harrison Wynn is giving up volleyball after this season." — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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