MLB strike changed Harris’s career path


David Harris

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the last in a two-part series on the Harris twins, David and Daniel. They are 1989 graduates of Wilmington High School and sons of Eleanor and the late Dr. Larry L. Harris.

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For David Harris, the Major League Baseball strike of 1994 proved to be a life-changer.

A 1989 graduate of Wilmington High School and son of Eleanor Harris of Wilmington and the late Dr. Larry L. Harris, Harris was beginning what could have a lengthy career in Major League Baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals organization. He was a staff assistant in the Player Development Department of Baseball Operations.

“I worked with the nationwide scouts feeding them information about high school and college players, minor league stats and contacts and also assisting with the free agent draft,” said Harris, a former athlete at WHS but not a baseball player.

But the 1994 MLB player’s strike started just after the free agent draft. Harris was “laid off but given the opportunity to try to wait things out.”

In the meantime, though, Harris took a job at Parkway Central High School in Chesterfield, Mo. He was the head freshman football coach and varsity quarterback coach. Parkway Central was a Missouri prep football powerhouse in the 1990s. Harris also was named the head girls track and field coach at PC, a program at the opposite end of the athletic spectrum. PC had not had a state qualifier in girls track for a number of years prior to Harris’ arrival, he said.

“I also started my graduate work in clinical social work at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University,” Harris said, adding it was the No. 1 program in the nation when he graduated and still holds a lofty rating.

So as MLB began in 1995 to dig itself out of the funk left by the strike, Harris had the opportunity to rejoin the Cardinals organization.

He turned them down.

“I had already invested the whole year in my studies and was falling in love with (coaching) high school sports,” he said.

After two seasons as head freshman coach, Harris moved up to the position of head junior varsity coach while remaining as varsity assistant. Parkway Central lost the 1997 Missouri state championship by four points to Jefferson City, a team that featured three future NFL players including former Bengal Justin Smith.

On the track, the PC girls were a force to be reckoned with. David hired brother Daniel as an assistant — “He was a big part in establishing the culture,” David said.

In his tenure at PC, 1995 to 2002, Harris had more than 80 state qualifiers, a state champion relay team, a state champion sprinter and more than 60 of the 80 state qualifiers finishing in the top eight.

Harris left Parkway at the end of the 2002 school year to take a position in the Maplewood Richmond Heights district, where he helped launch an educational alternative program for students struggling to flourish in the traditional academic setting. He continued to help PC as an assistant football coach on Friday nights for two years.

Then the MRH athletic director and superintendent approached Harris about “fixing” their football program, just 59-154 from 1981 to 2003.

“Needless to say I didn’t want to touch it,” Harris admitted. “However, I had already garnered the reputation of being a program developing coach. Offensively, my colleagues called me the ‘Miles Davis of Offense’ for the creativity I brought to the offensive system development and play calling.”

Adding a few retired coaching friends from his Parkway Central days, a former NFL player as his defensive coordinator and the first kid he coached to the staff, Richmond Heights had success. More than 20 student-athletes were recruited and enrolled at the college level. the team went 51-20 in Harris’ six years, including 34-5 his last three seasons. They won two conference titles, five district championships and were state semifinalists two times.

Harris, who has a son and daughter with wife Hilary, was named the 2008 Associated Press Missouri Class 2 coach of the year.

Despite his success, Harris left education in 2011 to use his clinical skills in the private sector. While he remains a consultant and still works in press boxes on game nights, he is now owner of Positive By Design.

“I see a variety of clients including individuals dealing with mental health concerns, couples seeking intimacy support and, of course with my love for athletics, supporting mental agility (Champion By Design formerly branded as Championship Mental Training) for elite young athletes, college and professional athlete clients from all over the country,” he said. “I see most of the athletes I work with by doing online, video conferencing sessions. I had been using my clinical skills in all of my work from coaching through administration, but finally had the desire to be entrepreneurial. This has been an incredibly successful move for me that has included a few appearances on the Oprah Winfrey Network’s (OWN) reality series “Welcome to Sweetie Pies” as their therapist/life coach.”