A Gentle Giant Turns into a Legend

A couple of weeks ago I discovered an article on the front page of the local section in Yahoo news. You’ve probably heard about the terrible shoot out in a Hair salon in Seal Beach, California. It was a horrible massacre and the people in the area were terribly devastated. That was until later in the evening when a large group gathered together at a candlelight vigil in front of the home of a highly revered member of their community.

Being intrigued by this article, I clicked onto the link to read more and as my eyes began to study the picture and caption to the story, I gasped. I sat there stunned in disbelief not wanting to acknowledge that I recognized this person since I hadn’t seen him in many, many, well too many years.

The person I’m referring to is James Brian Harris. He was my favorite teacher in high school, in fact he even attended my wedding. But to more than hundreds, perhaps thousands, he is now widely known as “Coach Harris” for the Varsity basketball team at Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach, California.

For the past 35 years this man has been the only head coach that the school has ever known since first opening its doors. This might be quite a feat on its own, but of course, there is more to this story.

It seems that Jim Harris has not only been the Varsity basketball Coach for the OVHS Seahawks all these years, but it was just two years ago, in 2009 that he was given an award by the city of HB for leading his team to their 600th win! The history of this unique man and his team of numerous talented players has been well documented by all the local newspapers including the Los Angeles Times. But that is not all.

Over the years, this kind compassionate family man lived, taught and coached here and won the reputation of becoming one of the most loving, magnanimous man this community has ever known. I encourage you to take a few moments and browse through the copious heartfelt comments at Coach Harris’ Team! the next time you visit Facebook. I assure you, it will not only make quite an impression, but it will also touch your heart.

You see, when I ran across this short, unpretentious article in Yahoo News, it was meant to be taken as a sign of hope, a little piece of optimism, giving us all courage and faith at the end of a day full of deadly despair. And it did for about a week until we all found out later that this dear man was going to lose his battle to cancer.

After just being granted a clean bill of health in June, Coach Harris developed a cough over the summer and in mid-August had a kidney removed and was told that he had Lung and Kidney cancer. Huh? Needless to say, this has been a complete shock to his family, the entire school and the rest of the community. It’s crazy how fleeting life can be.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to send my love to “Coach Harris” and his family along with countless others who you have touched with your life along the way. A life filled with love and inspiration for your family, the many special students, friends and faculty at school, the community, and especially for the love of that great game called Basketball.

Yes to all of us “Coach”, you will always be thought of as a gentle giant amongst men and a legend that will continue to live on in our hearts and memories throughout the rest of our lives. By the way “Coach”, I hear the lights are back on in the OVHS Gym!

So please tell me, what do you think? Has there ever been a time when a certain someone has stood out in your life? Maybe they influenced you in a direction you might have taken or a decision you might have made? Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, a colleague or mate. Perhaps something they said motivated you to stay the course that kept you on the right track when you were at a crucial fork in the road.

Thank you for your many thoughts and salutations. Take care and make it a great day!

Thank you Everybody!
Karen McFarland

*On a sad note, “Coach Harris” lost his battle to cancer Sunday, October 23rd 2011, shortly after I had written this post. Since then, rumor has it that the Ocean View High School Gymnasium will be named after that cherished man and the prestigious Tournament Of Champions boys basketball playoff will be renamed the “Jim Harris Memorial Tournament of Champions”.

If this all sounds a little bit like the movie “Remember the Titans”, you would be right.


32 thoughts on “A Gentle Giant Turns into a Legend

    1. Karen Post author

      Coach Harris has brought together an entire community through his coaching, mentoring and teaching. As Lana Miller aptly stated, that will be his legacy. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Angela!

    1. Karen Post author

      Wow Anthony, how true. We never know what can happen to us from one minute to the next. A simple act of kindness towards others goes a long way. Thank you Anthony for your kindness.

  1. August McLaughlin

    Touching post, Karen! And a lovely tribute to James.

    My life has definitely been touched by teachers and other mentors, whether they knew it or not. You’ve inspired me to try to track down one of my high school English teachers. 🙂 Thanks!

  2. Natalie Hartford

    What an amazing story of inspiration and strength. I think Tim said it best when he said “Communities are always so much better served when an individual gives so much back and influences so many. We should count ourselves lucky if we have a “Coach Harris” in our life.”
    Sooo true Tim – we should all be so lucky!
    For me, I will never forget the one English teacher who saw beyond my bad attitude and defensive nature and believed in me and my writing and encouraged me. He likely has no idea how that faith and confidence in me stayed with me and motivated me beyond my wildest imagination!
    Thanks for reminding us to think of those who’ve played a role of hope in our lives!
    And to the family and friends of Coach Harris – my deepest sympathies!

    1. Karen Post author

      I am so glad you found inspiration and strength from this amazing story! Thank you so much for your comment Natalie. I will be passing along everyone’s sympathies and well wishes to the many friends and especially the family of Coach Harris.

  3. Prudence MacLeod

    This was such a touching story, Karen. He will never be gone as long as one person lives who remembers him. I am sure you will remember him for a very long time.
    I grieve for your loss.
    Bless, Pru

  4. Lana Miller

    Thank you for your poignant article about our beloved Coach Harris. I understand the shock and disbelief of learning it was “Mr. Harris”, your teacher at FVHS before he was handpicked to come to OV. The end of the journey was not what we expected either.

    What happened though, is a community of people touched by him, who have come together to emulate what he stood for. We have taken a look inside about our own integrity and character in our daily live’s as well. THAT is his legacy to us.

    So much had been written about his success in coaching, now we know about the incredible victory in changing live’s of those he mentored, and helping them become the best they can be!

    Thank you for helping us share his legacy!

    1. Karen Post author

      Thank you Lana so much for sharing your beautiful comments about this awesome man! I know he meant so much to you and others who attended Ocean View High. We all loved him and he will be missed!

  5. Lynn Kelley

    This is a beautiful tribute to Coach Harris. I’m so sorry he lost his battle to cancer. I’m sure he touched many more lives than we’ll ever know, and those people will pass on what they learned from Coach to others. Thank you for this post.

    1. Karen Post author

      Ah, thank you so much Lynn. Yes, he touched many hearts. There was a beautiful article written by another coach/teacher from another high school in the area. All he could talk about was how giving Coach Harris was and how much he had learned from him. He will be missed.

  6. Tim L O'Brien

    What an inspirational story. Communities are always so much better served when an individual gives so much back and influences so many. We should count ourselves lucky if we have a “Coach Harris” in our life.

  7. Donna Newton

    Oh wow, I was not expecting an ending like that. What an amazing life this man had, but it isn’t fair to have such a sad ending. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

    Karen, this is one of those stories that will stick in my mind for the rest of the day. xx

  8. Keaton M.

    You can never give enough credit to the coaches and teachers that stand out from your youth, though they may be few, it seems as though you can simply rattle their name off as if it were yesterday you finished their class or a game with them. 35 years of consistently being an outstanding person to students and players, such as Coach Harris was, speaks volumes about the man he truly was. The students lives he touched echo that. Great story, and well written post!

    1. Karen Post author

      Thank you so much Keaton for your heartfelt comment. Time flies by so fast, yet when someone that outstanding touches your life, it can’t help but stick with you. Thanks for visiting!

  9. Ginger Calem

    What an inspiration he was. As a mom with kids in sports, I believe a coach has a vital role in young children’s lives. So much influence. It sounds like Coach Harris was a rare gem. RIP!


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