STOVALL: Jonesboro coach passing on life lessons

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

Ask anyone who’s played sports for any length of time and they’ll tell you that sports aren’t just games.

They are microcosms of life.

The battles that ensue in a game of football. The chess matches that happen each winter night on a basketball court. The baseball or softball diamond’s ability to capture the importance of a team.

Sports is about the endurance of the cross country runner. It’s about the grapplers on a wrestling mat who sometimes find themselves casting aside technique in order to use strength and determination to gut out a victory.

Sports is about hitching up a loaded trailer to your car and driving across state lines to pursue a passion and a new life.

Just ask Jonesboro girls basketball coach Lamar Harris.

After 10 years of living in Alabama, a little adversity caused the Queens, N.Y. native to alter his game plan a bit.

So his last drive in Alabama eventually turned into his first ever gig in Georgia — literally.

“I had a daughter, a car note, rent to pay,” Harris said. “I needed a job, so after I loaded up the trailer, I drove straight out of Alabama to a job fair here in Georgia.”

And that leap of faith landed him a job as a high school teacher and head basketball coach at Avondale High School.

The time he spent at Avondale made the people he spent time with seem like family. And when the school closed in 2011, Harris didn’t know if he’d find another place like it.

That is, until he found Drew. Harris said his time spent as an assistant coach with the Titans’ gave him an even greater bond than he had at Avondale. And getting the chance to help coach former Lady Titans star and current Rutgers player Precious Person last season was just the icing on the cake.

But sports and life would intertwine again for Harris when in the midst of his family affair at Drew, the Jonesboro job opened up.

Fresh off a Final Four season and loaded with senior talent and leadership, it was a job too good for Harris to pass up — even if it would be his second stab at the job.

Harris applied in 2008 but didn’t get the job. He didn’t hesitate to pursue it again this year, despite earlier plans to move into administration. Harris said the coaching itch simply never went away.

And he considers himself fortunate that Jonesboro — one of the Southern Crescent’s best programs over the last four years — gives him a chance to scratch that itch. Not because of wins and championships. Sure, that’s part of it. But Harris says that he’s in this for bigger reasons.

“Sports helped me,” Harris said. “Because of it, I stayed in school, got decent grades and was able to take advantage of the athletic abilities I’d been given. It made a difference in my life and I do this so that basketball can make a difference in these girls’ lives as well.”

That’s why he’s proud to coach in Clayton County, a place that, because of accreditation issues and a high-profiled county sheriff race, often gets a lot of bad press.

That’s why he’s proud to lead a group of girls, who he says are not just out there trying to win basketball games. More than that, they’re excelling in the classroom, enjoying life and enjoying each other.

“These girls have the right attitude,” Harris said. “They’re like a big family.”

What a prime place to make a profound impact. What a perfect spot for someone who wants to make a difference that extends beyond athletics.

Harris says every struggle, every bit of adversity he’s ever overcome, he’s learned how to do it in life because he first learned how to do it in sports.

That’s why when seniors Briana Benson and Kimberly Dawkins signed their letters of intent to play college ball at Jacksonville State and Jacksonville University respectively, Harris beamed with pride, even though it was just the first week of his first season with these girls.

Perhaps it’s because he saw a little bit of himself in their achievements.

“What they’re accomplishing is a sign of their commitment and hard work and I couldn’t be happier for them,” Harris said. “I know what basketball has done for me. I know how it will pay off for them, not just on the court, but in their lives.”

Gabriel Stovall is a sports writer for the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at gstovall@news-daily.com. On Twitter? Follow him @gabrielstovall1