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In the Pipeline: A moment of grace hidden by tragedy

October 19, 2011
  • Ocean View High basketball co-Coach Jim Harris with his daughter and son-in-law, Kim and Shane Morris, during a candlelight vigil outside his home Oct. 12.
Ocean View High basketball co-Coach Jim Harris with his… (HB Independent )

Wednesday of last week was such a strange day.

The mercury pushed up near 100 degrees throughout the region, the sort of strange, unseasonably arid kind of day that will prompt at least a few to start wondering about "earthquake weather." It was a summer day that didn't happen all summer, and the odd, almost-eerie stillness that comes with such an afternoon was obliterated about 1:30 when a gunman in Seal Beach opened fire, killing eight innocent people (and injuring a ninth).

The sickening, hollow feeling we get on the heels of such news is profound. Little did I know that that same evening (with temperatures still a balmy 90), I'd witness something so beautiful that it, at least for several moments, would actually eclipse the brutal events in Seal Beach and cast a glow (literally) at the end of the day.

Ocean View High School basketball coach Jim Harris, 67, is a local legend. I know his name, accomplishments and reputation cast a longer shadow than just Huntington Beach, but for the Seahawks, he is revered.

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He has coached at Ocean View for 35 years, since the school opened. Teams he has led have won 19 basketball league championships on the boys' side, and several years ago, he even had a five-season stint coaching the girls' team, which won four league titles during that time.

Talk to alumni, though, and it's not the numbers that his legend is built around—it's the man. Harris' leadership skills, combined with his compassion and concern for students, have resulted in a remarkable bond between players, students, parents — and coach.

Recently, my friend Lana Briggs Miller, a member of the first-ever Ocean View graduating class (and as sparklingly enthusiastic an alumni as can be found) made me aware that Harris had recently been diagnosed with cancer and was having a very rough time. Almost immediately, Facebook groups popped up so former and current students and families could begin posting messages of support for Coach Harris.

Pages and pages of heartfelt missives appeared each day — not knowing Harris personally, I began to get a sense of a great man who has touched countless lives for the better. The image of a vital father figure emerged from men, women and children alike.

Lana also told me that last Wednesday, a candlelight vigil, organized by Tracy King-Wenschlag, would take place outside the Harris residence in Fountain Valley.

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