Harris lends a hand at sports camp

PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. (August 2014)— Professional athletes Dwyane Wade and Brandon Marshall spent some time in New Lenox this summer, hosting a sports camp for area kids. For a maintenance man at Providence of Palos Heights, the camp provided a chance to add to the effort he already puts in coaching youth in Chicagoland.

Justin Harris poses for a photo with Chicago Bears' wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Justin Harris poses for a photo with Chicago Bears’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

Justin Harris, of Robbins, was selected to be one of the football coaches at the Dwyane Wade and Brandon Marshall Sports Academy & Cheerleading Skills Camp, which was at Lincoln-Way Central High School in July.

Wade, a three-time NBA champion with the Miami Heat, is also from Robbins and graduated from Richards High School. For 10 years, Wade has returned to Chicagoland to host a youth basketball camp. Over the years the camp has continued to expand, drawing in youth from all across the country. Marshall, a five-time NFL Pro Bowler, is currently a wide receiver for the Chicago Bears. Elena Delle Donne of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky also made an appearance at the camp, which was for boys and girls age 7-18.

Harris was even younger than the smallest campers when he first picked up a football.

“I’ve been playing sports since I was five years old — never took a year off,” said Harris, who attended some sports camps as a kid himself. “I played a lot of sports, but my main one was football.”

After graduating from Richards High School in Oak Lawn, Harris went on to play at Joliet Junior College. He has always enjoyed football, and now he’s passing on his love for the sport.

Currently, he coaches a team of five- and six-year-olds — including his oldest son, Jae’dyn. His younger son, Justin Jr., is just a year old, so he has a few years before he joins any sports programs.

“You’ve got to be real careful with kids — you’ve got to make it fun,” Harris said.

Harris is also the defensive coordinator for the sophomore team at his alma mater in Oak Lawn.

He’s been coaching youth football for six years and high school football for five years. He laughs as he notes that there’s a big difference between five-year-olds and 15-years-olds. The younger kids need a lot of teaching, he said, and their attention spans are short — so the basics of the game are often interrupted by butterfly-chasing and bathroom breaks.

Harris worked with kids of all ages at the camp, where young athletes move though stations, spending about 10 minutes at each. He was impressed by the fact that Wade and Marshall worked with the campers, too.

“Usually at things like that, [professional players] will just show up and wave,” Harris said. “But they actually interacted with the kids. It was a great experience, just to see the kids’ faces — they were so happy. I’m glad to be part of something like that — I love kids and I love teaching.”

And while he’s teaching them football, he adds, he’s also hoping to teach them a lot more. He often sees the skills he learned in football put to use in his everyday life.

“You can translate football into anything,” said Harris, who is well-loved by the staff at Providence Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Palos Heights. “[It helps with] work ethic, learning procedures, and getting tasks done. With football, you have a variety of coaches and players, but you have to be a team, get along with everybody, to get things done. That’s just like work.”

And that is what Harris wants to teach his players.

“I know they won’t play forever,” Harris said. “It’s more about life lessons and experience. Nothing is handed to you; you have to go out and get it.”

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