John Harris, Saugerties High School class of 1982, is now a part of a whole new class. The Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame has invited him into the class of 2015. Although he has long since retired from school athletics, the values he learned from participating in sports have stuck with him. Camaraderie, dedication and loyalty were qualities instilled in him by teammates and coaches and have since enriched Harris’s life.
“Initially my father got me into sports,” said Harris. “He inspired me in many, many ways. A lot of the inspiration that I had in all the sports that I got into and all the teams that I played on, really the inspiration came from my teammates.”
As a three letter-athlete in high school, Harris’s dedication to sports started early and stayed strong. From freshman to senior year, Harris played football, basketball and baseball as a quarterback, safety/center and catcher, respectively. Although it was baseball he enjoyed most, basketball is where Harris got a nickname that would stick with him to this day. Anyone who went to school with John Harris is far more likely to call him “Chinner” than John. “I was a freshman, and it was the end of the JV [basketball] season. Varsity was working out and normally they bring up a couple players from JV for sectionals. So they brought me up, and we were shooting long shots, and I wasn’t big enough, wasn’t strong enough to shoot from over my head, so I was kind of heaving it from my chin. A good friend of mine said, ‘Hey, look! He’s chinning it!’ And that was it.”
Another source, fellow inductee Randy Nilsen, had a simpler explanation for the nickname: “He had the biggest chin in the world!”
Either way, it got to the point where students, teachers and even the principal called him Chinner.
Harris, Nilsen and Jeff Dodig, three of the five inductees this year, were great friends in high school. “It’s an honor to be up there with two of your good friends from high school,” said Harris.
The three friends were also a part of the undefeated 1982 varsity baseball team. “My senior year we had the state championship down at West Point. Quite an exciting place to go down to. I still remember the stadium that we played in. You could see ‘Army’ was on top of all the buildings. It was pretty neat.”
Like many of his fellow inductees, Harris played for the Saugerties Dutchmen.
“My time as a Saugerties Dutchman by far was the greatest thrill and honor that I ever had as an athlete in any sport. Not to mention the most fun I ever had! I believe my first year was 1981. I was a junior in high school and Boo Schafer was the coach. It was quite the year. I played on the American Legion team, Saugerties varsity team and the Dutchmen that year. I played for the Dutchmen from 1981 until I was a junior at LeMoyne College in 1985. Truly some of the best and proudest years of my life.”
Harris played baseball at LeMoyne as well.
“I stuck with baseball because I think it gave me the best chance in college. So I got a scholarship to play at LeMoyne. I went up there to play Division 1 baseball for a few years.”
In a game against Penn State, Harris had a devastating injury that would end his baseball career. “I got run over at the plate; it was my fault. Base-hit to right field, grass was wet, the ball skipped, and I locked my knee to pick it and I just got run over at the plate. Things happen. That was the last time I played a ball game.”
Once he completed college, Harris decided to stay in Syracuse where he now works as a banker at M&T Bank. Today he sticks to the non-contact sports of golf and bowling. “[Golf] is my passion now. I play three, four times a week. If you ask my wife, that’s five to six times a week. You’re out with your friends, add the factor of competition in there and it becomes a recipe for fun.”
Harris looks back fondly on his time as a young athlete.
“I got a ton of memories, a lot of good memories, a lot of tough memories, blowing grass out of my facemask playing football. A lot of memories, thinking about good times, being on the field with your friends, the camaraderie that you had that grew from it. All good stuff.”
Still, there are regrets.
“I would’ve enjoyed the moment more. I would’ve sat and really thought about the opportunity that I had, and where I was and what I was doing because nothing lasts forever, and all of a sudden you’re 30 years old and you think about those times that you had, wish you could’ve relished them more than you did back then, understand what it truly meant.”
On the night of the induction, Harris will undoubtedly be able to appreciate the moment. “I’m honored to be a part of the heritage of the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame. I’m even prouder of the fact that I’m following in my grandfather’s footsteps.”
Harris says the values he learned in sports have served him well in his career and personal life.
“Sports to me have such important values that you learn growing up. You get a job, you’re part of a team, part of a company. The respect you have for the coaches, you learn that growing up, it’s the same respect you have for your superiors now. And carry that over to family. What you do affects your family and what your family does affects you, and talk about a concept where being part of a team must be more important than anything else.”
Tickets are available now for the Saugerties Sports Hall of Fame Club’s 52nd annual induction banquet on Saturday, May 9 at 6:30 pm at Diamond Mills Hotel & Tavern. Doors open an hour prior with a cocktail reception from 5:30-6:30 pm.This year’s inductees are Jeff Dodig, Albert Giannotti (posthumously), John Harris, Randy Nilsen and Mark “Doc” Silinovich. Tickets are available by contacting Mark Becker at (518) 641-9520 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Cost is $25. Reserve early.