Monday, January 28, 2008

newspaper article

Will's story was put in the Times News back home on Sunday. It was a very touching story. He loves his job. I tried to link it so this post won't be so long but it wouldn't work. Here is the story as it ran yesterday. It touched us all, specially Will. Thanks for the love, girls



Playing for stricken coach, Jerome girls poised for storybook ending
Jordan Burnham and Molly Reid digested the newly-broken news and looked at each other, neither wanting to allow the tears welling in their eyes to spill over and make the situation any more difficult than it was already.

During the impromptu offseason lunch meeting with then-Jerome High head girls basketball coach Will Harbison, the two seniors-to-be were rocked by the revelation that Harbison's cystic fibrosis - a disease he was diagnosed with just one month after birth - had advanced to the point that he needed to go to Salt Lake City where he still awaits the lung transplant that will hopefully save his life.

It was a tough decision from a tough coach who refused to let others see how far he had exhausted himself.

"If you looked at him and didn't know he was sick, you wouldn't be able to tell. He never lets it show on his face, ever," said Reid. "We were really sad, but at the same time we were glad that he was getting it done so he can get better."

Said Burnham: "He wasn't just our coach, he's one of our best friends."

Harbison's relationship is tight with each and every one of the Jerome players, but there's something even tighter involving the two seniors, both of whom made their varsity debuts as freshmen during Harbison's inaugural season at the helm.

Last summer, he told each of the remaining players individually of his departure, but wanted his two leaders to be the first to know that he was leaving. The announcement was a sobering reminder about the reality of life outside of basketball, even if it shouldn't have come as a total surprise.

Late into last season, an internal suspicion mounted that this year would be different for Jerome's girls basketball team. But it wasn't until an offseason precipitated by a Great Basin Conference West tournament loss to Minico that Harbison confirmed to his players that this was the end, at least for the time being.

"We kind of had an idea that we weren't sure if Will would have the strength to go one more year, and his health started to deteriorate a little," said Brent Clark, who helped out the last couple of years and assumed what he calls the interim head coaching role for this season - or as long as it takes Harbison to recover, if he wants to resume coaching after the transplant. "It really hit home when he told the kids. He has a special bond with the girls, and really wanted to finish it out with (the seniors)."

The transition was an easy one on the court, but everywhere the Tigers look there are reminders of a beloved coach who can't be with them because of more important matters.

"It's strange that (during) pregame, he's not there," said Reid. "During the game, it's not like we've gotten a new coach, it's just like we've lost someone physically. But even though he's not here physically, he's still a big part of this team."

Not entirely due to Harbison, but admittedly in part because of his situation, almost every Jerome home game is broadcast over the Internet, allowing Harbison and other fans to view the game online. When the team is on the road, Harbison tries to listen on the radio, even listening on his cell phone to a radio someone on the other end has set a phone receiver next to. Whatever it takes to hear the Tigers live.

"It's like he can't wait a couple of days for the game film," Burnham said with a small laugh, referencing Harbison's enthusiasm for the team as well as the fact that Clark sends him copies of game tape to break it down, keeping him in the coaching circle. He is, after all, officially listed as an assistant coach this year.

The team dedicated its season to Harbison at the beginning of the year, and he's never far from their thoughts, on-court or off.

"I think about him most when things get hard, especially on the court," said sophomore guard Aubree Callen, a revelation on the team this season. "I think about what he's going through, and how what I'm doing is so little (in comparison) that I just try to push right through it."

The Tigers have been pushing right through almost anything and anyone in their way this season. They currently enjoy an 18-1 record as well as the No. 2 ranking in the Class 4A media poll, and this week clinched the outright Great Basin Conference West regular-season title.

It's a level of success that doesn't surprise anyone around the program, but it's certainly one that's plenty cathartic for coaches, players and Harbison.

Harbison, Clark maintains, is someone who continues to thrive in no small part because of this team and this sport, both of which have helped him to fight as long as he has against a potentially lethal disease.

"Basketball is one of the things that have really kept Will going," said Clark. "He's overcome so many odds already, but basketball keeps him going."

In the same way that the team keeps Harbison going, he keeps the girls focused on the prize and brightens their day in his own fashion.

Though his present condition means he can't talk all the time, the girls regularly receive text messages or e-mails from Harbison, sometimes asking questions about basketball or other times just wishing them well and seeing how things are going. In turn, that assuages the girls' concerns as to how Harbison is feeling.

"It's an everyday thing, that I wonder how he's doing," said Burnham. "When you get a message from him, it really brightens your day."

Jerome's players actually got to see Harbison once this season. It was on a bonding trip over Thanksgiving, when the team tripped to Utah for a special visit.

"Just to see the smile on his face was great," said Reid. "All the girls were really excited when we found out about the trip."

There's no mistaking that the player-coach relationship between the team and Harbison isn't just an on-court thing. Just as they've grown attached to him and are willing him to succeed in his fight, he's given them tools to be productive people both on and off the hardwood.

"The biggest thing he's helped me with is my attitude. He always has such a positive attitude and I didn't have a good attitude last year," said Callen. "I was always really negative on the court, and he turned that around 100 percent. That has helped me not only on the court, but off it as well."

Jerome's basketball success this season doesn't completely revolve around Harbison, but he's indisputably their biggest fan and most emotional rallying point at the same time. For the girls in white, black and orange, there's really only one fitting end to boost the spirits of their stricken coach, and that's to finish off an emotional season with a state championship.

"(The bar of expectations) doesn't stop," said Callen. "Not one person on this team doubts what we can do."

Said Burnham: "We really want to show (Harbison) what we can do. It was very upsetting to lose (in the district tournament) last year the way we did."

That doesn't mean the girls are getting ahead of themselves, however.

"We don't really talk about (how good the team is), but in a couple of weeks your record doesn't matter. You have to be ready to win (at the district tournament) and be playing your best basketball, which I think we're doing," said Clark. "… These girls haven't been to the state tournament. But they know this has been a special season, and it's in the back of their minds to do this for Will - and for themselves."

David Bashore may be reached at 1-800-658-3883, ext. 230, or david.bashore@lee.net.
Story published at magicvalley.com on Sunday, January 27, 2008

4 comments:

Haneys said...

Hi Team Harbison!
Just wanted to THANK YOU all for the call. You have ALL really made such an impact on my life, I can't imagine what Will did for these Jerome girls in spending so much time teaching them valuable life lessons. We are thoroughly impressed by this article and I, for one, completely understand the POWER a Harbison can have over a person!...Thanks for being who you are and loving others for who they are and keeping the faith so strong that GOOD will prevail!
We love you with all of our hearts!
Can't wait to see you!
Arron, Maegan & Ruston-Roo:)
P.S. Willie Ben, you look so stealthy! What have you been eating?! Must be an Idaho potatoes guy:)

Tanya said...

that is so great to have such a bond with your team... That kind of stuff is such a blessing in cf'ers... GO WILLS TEAM GIRLS!!!!

Mel said...

what an awesome article. Go! Will's Tigers. You are loved. Keep doing what your doing to keep yourself strong & you'll soon be back doing what you love to do.

The Wades said...

Great story! Will will be added to our prayers. :)