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Tulsa Union (Oklahoma) girls wrestling coach Gerald Harris continues championship run while receiving national recognition

Harris attempts to lead Lady Redhawks to a third consecutive 6A state title this weekend

When Gerald Harris got the news, he didn’t know what to think. 

The Tulsa Union girls wrestling coach had already picked up state coach of the year and regional coach of the year honors. But even though he was a nominee for national coach, it was something he really didn’t take too seriously.

That all changed earlier this year when it was announced that Harris had been named a 2022-2023 National Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Association's (NFHS) Coaches Association.

“I'm like looking at the other regions like Pennsylvania and California, I'm not going to win National. And I got an e-mail, man, and it changed my life,” Harris said. “I'm 21 years into coaching girls and that's the biggest and highest honor you can receive. And I got it.

"I mean it's a once in a lifetime thing, so I'm still smiling to this day. I'm focused on the state title right now, but that is definitely icing on the cake to get that award. But it isn't about me, it's about the girls.”

Including a title with Broken Arrow in 2021, Harris has won championships in three consecutive years. He also had a pair of championships with Collinsville in 2019 and 2020.

Harris, who used to be an MMA fighter, credits one particular occupation for helping mold his coaching style. Well, it wasn’t exactly an occupation, but more of a talent from his days in college.

“I threw parties. I threw parties and didn't party,” Harris insisted with a laugh. “But I had the ability to draw a crowd. It’s the likeness. You want people to like you. You want to give them good energy.

"And I give off good energy to most people and that's what I like. And those girls, they love me.”

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The girls Harris speaks of are members of the Tulsa Union wrestling team. He has guided them to back-to-back 6A state championships and has set his sights on making it a three-peat this week.

State tournament action for classes 6A-2A begins Thursday with the first round. The championship matches are set to start at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the State Fair Arena in Oklahoma City.

The Lady Redhawks are coming off a second-place finish to Edmond North at the 6A-West Regional. But that is not a concern for Harris, who has never won a regional title as a head coach. His attention is on the big picture.

“I love regional titles, but state is where it counts,” Harris said. “I don't even know who won regional last year, but everybody knows who won state. So right now, I don't want to sound rude, I don't really care about the team points.

"I care more about who gets through and what's most important to me is who's going to make it through and who's going to hold it down in state when the lights are on.”

Yet, Harris will admit that seeing the big picture hasn’t always been a strength of his. It wasn’t too long ago that his laser focus on his team was a detriment to those closest to him.

It took an social media post for him to realize that.

“A guy made the best video I've ever seen. He said he's won coach of the year, but he never won father of the year,” Harris said. “I had to wake up because I was putting wrestling before my family. And when I stopped putting wrestling before my family, that's the year that I got that award.

"And I'm not saying the timing was coincidental, but I had to check myself, man. I was neglecting my wife, I was neglecting my own kids. I was coming home too late. I was so, so obsessed with this and I was going about it the wrong way. I'm still obsessed with it, but I'm going about it the right way now; and once I found balance between my family and work, that's when I started reaching a whole different level of success that you can't even get in a trophy.”

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Harris now says he does things he could never have imagined earlier in his career. That includes taking a day off from practice to spend with his family, which is made up of his wife, eight kids, a niece and nephew and a mother.

Not to mention two dogs and a cat.

“It's prioritizing. There were times where I was like, wrestling is more important than anything right now and it wasn’t. And when I did that, I made mistakes,” Harris said. “I was so desperate, I was so involved in this that I was blind to everything else.

"Those girls know I take my shirt off my back any day, but they also know that I have a family at home and they allow me to have that balance. And now that I found balance 20 years later, this last year taught me a lot and it all came from an Instagram video.”

One of Harris’ other talents outside of coaching and throwing parties is being a standup comedian. He has been known to get on stage at local comedy clubs in Oklahoma City and entertain crowds.

But Harris saves some of his best material for the postseason banquets when he says every girl on the team will get an award, a nickname and then roasted by him.

Along with winning state titles, this has become a tradition with the Lady Redhawks. By the time this weekend concludes, Harris plans to be preparing new material and celebrating another championship.

-- Michael Kinney | @SBLiveOK