A Reason Why Players Love Coach Lamar Harris

coach-harris-1

Coach Lamar Harris Head Coach at Hubbertville High School

This is a true story about why players loved playing for Alabama High School Hall of Fame Coach Lamar Harris.  And why years later we realize we not only loved playing for him, but that we loved him.

Haleyville Gets a New Coach

When Coach Harris came to Haleyville High School, he was fresh out of Samford University in Birmingham. He was newly wed with a year’s coaching experience.  In my ninth grade year he became our assistant Jr. High football coach and the B team basketball coach.

During his first year, coach also taught ninth grade Civic’s class.  Having my coach as my teacher was great, and we enjoyed getting to know him on a more personal level. 

Coach quickly became known for his “more than happy to oblige” use of the board of correction.  Getting a lick or two for a minor infraction became as commonplace among the athletes as getting a homework assignment. We even got a lick for missing shots in basketball as we practiced stalling the ball to protect a lead. He thought a lick would simulate the pressure of the game. It did, and I can remember a sore behind for missing a couple of layups. 

My Accident   

During my third year of knowing Coach Harris, I was involved in an accident.  It happened during my junior year in September on a Friday the 13th.  We were playing in a downpour at Pickens County High School.  As holder for extra points I muffed the hold that would have put us up by one.  Picking up the bobbled snap, I sloshed around right end when their defensive end went low to make the tackle.  My foot got stuck in the mud as he put his helmet on my leg turning my shin into a right angle.    

For the next 99 days I lugged around my plaster of paris leg.  This prolonged period in a cast was the result of two unsuccessful surgeries attempting to keep my bones lined up.  The third surgery went like a charm.  

Feeling pretty good here

Feeling pretty good here with Lynn Robinson and Patti Hyatt

Coach Contributes to My Lowest Point

On December 22, 1974 the doctor removed my cast and cleared me for physical activity. On January 2, 1975 I joined the basketball team with one skinny leg and one that resembled a toothpick.  It was my year to move up to the varsity, but due to the injury, coach ask me to join the B team, where I had played for Coach Harris the year before.  

We were in midseason when I began practice.  We had a couple of games where I rode the pine.  After two weeks back, we played a game at Fayette High School.  Fayette traditionally was better than we were in basketball.  This night was no exception as Fayette’s B team was led by an eighth grader named Mike Davis. Mike would later play for The University of Alabama, before eventually becoming an assistant coach under Bob Knight.  Mike followed the legendary Bob Knight as the first African-American head basketball coach at Indiana University.

Fayette was beating us like a drum and I had yet to see any action. With 30 seconds on the clock coach Harris cleared the bench to let the scrubs play.  This happens all the time in team sports, but this had never happened to me before and I felt humiliated.  Too embarrassed to show my face after the game, I stayed in the locker room during the Varsity game feeling sorry for myself.

Toward the end of the varsity game,  Coach Harris got word that I wouldn’t come out, so he came looking for me.  He came in and sat down beside me on the bench and said,

“What’s wrong Clay, why are you still in here.”

“Coach, I don’t want to play unless the game is on the line,” I said.  

“Well Clay, you are just getting back after being in a cast for three months.’

“I know, but that is the way I feel,”

“Ok, I hear you, come on out and watch the rest of this game.”

Redemption

The next week we played Carbon Hill High School at home. Carbon Hill is a basketball school.  They were well coached and played year round.  It was a close game and Coach was giving me some minutes.  My play was nothing special, just holding my own and trying to do my job.  Even at my best, Coach Harris was going to complain to me about my defense.   

The game had been nip and tuck all night going back and forth. Now, with 8 seconds left on the clock, Carbon Hill hit the go ahead basket giving them a one point lead. Coach Harris immediately signaled for a timeout to lay down a strategy for moving the length of the court to take a final shot.  

We all huddled around Coach Harris to get the plan.  Coach leaned over and pointed a finger at Jerry our point guard,

“Roberson, I want you to inbound the ball to Lauderdale (Timmy).”  “Lauderdale,” he said,”get away from your man on the inbound and immediately get it back to Jerry. Mize, you line up on the foul line at the other end with Fogg (Karl).  Randal (Ray), I want you to line up at the half court line.” Pointing to Randal he said, “As soon as Jerry throws the ball in, I want you to come down and screen Mize’s man on the foul line. Mize, I want you to break to half court toward the visitors side. Jerry get Mize the ball.” Coach Harris pauses, looks at me and says, “Go put it in.”  .

The play developed just as Coach drew it up.  Jerry threw the ball in to Timmy who got it back to Jerry.  Randal screened my man as I broke for the half court line.  Jerry made a couple of good moves to put himself in position to make a pass to me just as I reached the mid court line.  Catching the ball I pivoted, lined up my shot and turned it loose as if in slow motion the ball floated the 42 feet before hitting nothing but net.  The crowd went wild. Stunned, I forced myself to act like it was no big deal as my teammates mobbed me.        

The thing is, Coach Harris didn’t let me shoot the final shot because he thought I earned the right.  Nor was it because I gave us the best chance for making the shot.  He wanted me to know he was listening to me, I was valuable to him, and that he believed in me.  

That was the kind of man we had leading and mentoring our young men.  It was a blessing for us to have him and it was acts like this that made him so loved by former players still today.  

I saw coach today.  He had driven up with his wife Gail to the funeral of Ricky Grimes. Ricky was one of my teammates and one of his players all those years ago.

From Left to Right; Curtis White, Timmy Lauderdale, Lee Carter, Dale Albright, Carl Fogg, Doug Bates, Randal Ray, Clay Mize, Jerry Roberson, Kyle Phillips

From Left to Right; Curtis White, Timmy Lauderdale, Lee Carter, Dale Albright, Karl Fogg, Doug Bates, Randal Ray, Clay Mize, Jerry Roberson, Kyle Phillips, Center: Coach Lamar Harris

%d bloggers like this: