In the Pipeline: The shadow of a giant

October 26, 2011|By Chris Epting
  • Elvi Delgado, class of '09,writes a message to Coach Jim Harris.
Elvi Delgado, class of '09,writes a message to Coach… (Chris Epting, HB…)

The week before last, Ocean View High School Coach Jim Harris addressed a candlelight vigil outside his home with grace, calm and characteristic fight.

The aggressive cancer he had been diagnosed with in August had clearly taken its toll, but in the warm night air, his spirit still soared. On the wings of the faithful students that had gathered, he seemed uplifted.

But then, just like that, he is gone.

Harris, who coached basketball for 33 years at Ocean View, who won 19 league championships and three Southern Section titles, passed away Sunday night at the age of 67.

The beloved coach's legacy was secure long before he became ill, yet as the specter of the sickness became more insidious over the last few weeks, living, breathing shrines were born on Facebook. Students from days gone by poured their hearts out, eloquently capturing their vivid love and respect for Coach Harris.


They were hoping and praying for the best, but preparing for the worst.

Monday night, the doors of the Ocean View gym were open as usual. Like primal music, the sound of basketballs being dribbled punched a precise, rapid-fire melody in the night.

That's the pulse of the Harris legacy, that beautiful sound of ball-on-court, punctuated by whistles, coach's commands and the squeak of fresh sneakers on hardwood. This is Hoosiers-by-the-sea for many who have gone here: a big, noisy gym built up from nothing but hard work, commitment and discipline.

And a coach.

Outside, a small shrine of candles and photos had been arranged by the front door. Lana Briggs-Miller, Class of '80, who helped organize the candlelight vigil, was dutifully arranging things in preparation for a last-minute, informal memorial gathering in the gym — still an effervescent cheerleader for her school, her coach and the memory that must now be served.

Dozens of people began to arrive, many eyes moist with tears. Long, silent hugs were exchanged. Then, as they'd all done so many times before, they filed into the gym. Not for a game, but to form a circle around center court, where a lone basketball sat.

Bob Briggs, Lana's brother, took out his trumpet and powerfully pierced the silence with the spiritual hymn "Goin' Home," followed by the school alma mater.

Cody Whitewolf, Class of '80, guided the group with a series of prayerful offerings. Then, holding hands, the group of several dozen went around the circle sharing stories, laughs and tears, united in their love of a fallen leader.

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