Harris' legacy goes beyond banners

Jim Harris' reach goes well beyond the Seahawk uniform. Coach Harris mentored students who were never in his math classes and young coaches like me who never attended his school or played on his team.

While Ocean View High School's gymnasium is lined with championships banners from rafter to rafter, what's really important can't be hung on the walls.

Over the past nine years, Harris became one of the most impactful mentors in my life. I was 19 years old and had just started coaching the freshman basketball team at Fountain Valley High School, a team Harris coached back in the '70s. On the fourth day of coaching at the Pacific Coast Basketball Camp that Harris and Craig Impelman put on at Ocean View, Harris pulled me aside and started pouring his guidance into me.

Harris must have seen I needed a lot of help, so he invited me into his classroom and spent more than an hour with me diagraming fast-break patterns and talking coaching philosophy. Mike Krzyzewski said, "Leaders show respect for people by giving them time." No coach has ever given me as much time as Harris did.

The next year, I became the head JV coach at Fountain Valley High, and Harris called and invited me to come to his varsity practices. Although Ocean View and Fountain Valley aren't in the same league, I was shocked he would allow a coach from an opposing school into his sanctum.

Harris spent 90% of the practice by my side, explaining to me why they did what they were doing. There was a philosophy behind every detail. As Pat Williams said, "The greatest teachers not only explain the how, but the why." When it comes to greatness, Harris is a giant.

And for the next five years, Harris let my basketball teams come for free every summer to his and Impelman's camp and meet the greatest of them all, John Wooden. How kind and what a life-altering gift he gave to my boys to be able to meet and learn from Wooden about success. It was always my favorite day of the year. Wooden said, "You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for another who can never repay you." Harris made every day perfect, or as Wooden would say, "a masterpiece."

In 2009, Harris led his team to another CIF championship game. My younger brother Stuart and I attended to show our support for Coach. We were five or six rows back from the court of Mater Dei's gym. About 30 minutes before game time, Ocean View came out from the locker room, dressed in unison, so disciplined and focused.

Harris walked past and then started walking up the bleachers, and before I knew it, I heard, "Hi, Steve, how are you?" I couldn't believe it. Harris was sitting next to me. We spent about 10 minutes together. Here was this great coach, about to be on the grand stage of high school basketball, and he was taking time to sit with me. He was so calm, confident and caring.

I thought back to all those summers he let me spend with Wooden and how Wooden used to say, "A coach's most important work happens in practice. I should be able to sit up in the bleachers during games, and if I did my job, my players should know what to do." Harris had truly mastered the art of coaching.

It was a blowout. The Ocean View Seahawks were victorious once again. As I watched Harris hoist up the CIF championship plaque and saw his players look up to him with awe, I wished they could have witnessed their coach's kindness before the game, for it was there that Harris showed me what a champion looks like.

Last year, I moved on to be the head JV coach at Los Alamitos High School. So in the spring, Harris called me and said he wouldn't have any assistants at Ocean View's game one Saturday and he asked me to join him on the bench.

I sat next to the man I admired so much. He not only coached his team to another win, but during the game, kept talking to me, showing me what he was looking for and why he would say one thing to this player and that to another player. Harris was devoted to his team, loyal to his school, committed to his craft and an ambassador of his profession.

The center court of Ocean View's gym is inked with these words: character, integrity, sacrifice, courage, loyalty, unity, spirit, tradition, commitment and love. It's time they add the words Coach Harris Court, and before the 2011-12 basketball season begins, the gym that Harris built should be adorned with his name.

This past July, on the last day of the Gahr summer league, my JV team finished our final game of the summer season. As our game ended, Ocean View's varsity team started theirs on the center court. I stayed and watched my mentor do what he loved, thinking about the time the master let me share his bench. Ocean View ran over their opponent by 40 points.

I didn't talk to Coach that day; he was with some people, so I waved goodbye to him in the parking lot, thinking I would see him soon, back in his gym for the Ocean View fall league. I did not know then that the Gahr parking lot would be the last time I would see Harris. And Coach did not know then that was the last game he would coach.

Harris guided me through college, talked to me about what I needed to do to become a teacher and showed me what the true role of a coach is.

I sent Harris a few handwritten letters over the years, expressing how grateful I am and how much I looked up to him. So I have some peace in knowing he knew how I felt about him.

But what I realized tonight, as I stood in his gym, just trying to find a way to be close to him, is that I love him. Harris did what all great leaders do: He influenced people to do more and become more. He made you change the way you saw yourself.

As much as I wish I could go back to that Gahr parking lot and run up to him and hug him and tell him I love him, I can't. But as is the mark of all great teachers, I still can hear Harris' words.

I'm reminded of when all the gyms in our district were shut down for remodeling a few years back. When they were finished, there were a lot of malfunctions and problems. Harris was spending some time with me in Fountain Valley's gym and someone came up to me and said, "The gym looks so nice." And I responded by pointing out different spots where they had messed up.

After, Coach turned to me and said, "Steve, when someone gives you a compliment, learn to just say thank you." And he did his patented little laugh and smiled.

Coach Jim Harris, your life mattered in the biggest way. I love you, Coach. When it comes to being the caliber of coach you are, I know duplication is not possible, but emulation will be the goal. I don't know why you took an interest in me, but I've learned well from you, so I'll leave you with the two words people in our profession rarely get to hear: Thank you.

STEVE SCHULTZ is an English teacher at Fountain Valley High School and head junior varsity boys' basketball coach at Los Alamitos High School. He has been published in "Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inside Basketball" and "A+ Teaching: 180 Ways to Enhance Your Success as a Teacher." He lives in Fountain Valley and writes a monthly column on leadership for Fountain Valley Living Magazine.

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