By CHRIS LARICK
For the Star Beacon
Ray Harriman landed the head football coaching job he had dreamed of for so long at Newbury in 2006.
But the opportunity wasn’t everything he had hoped for.
“I continued to teach at Berkshire the whole time (2006-2009),” Harriman, who will be inducted into the Ashtabula County Basketball Foundation’s Hall of Fame on April 13 at the Conneaut Human Resources Center.
“I was head coach at Newbury for three years and had a different staff every year,” he said. “I had no coaches in the building (Newbury High School). There was no Health and Physical Ed (Harriman’s field of teaching) job open. There was no consistency. But they had some hard-nosed kids and I enjoyed it.”
The Harriman family had moved to Orwell from Cleveland when Harriman was in elementary school. It didn’t take Ray long to adapt to his new environment.
“I got into sports at the earliest possible age, playing flag football,” he said.
The Grand Valley community was, and remains, a close one. With just 98 or 99 students in Harriman’s graduating class, it was inevitable that everyone was well-acquainted with each other.
“It was a tight-knit group, really tight,” Harriman said. “I knew the same guys from junior high school all the way through.”
That pertained particularly to athletics. Harriman played sports with boys like Derrick Nichols, Ron Granger and Brian Olah all through school. A class behind, Jimmy Henson and John Kampf joined them on Mustang teams. Kevin Martin was another mainstay. Tom Benje moved in at the beginning of Harriman’s high school years and joined the group.
There was a lot of talent in those classes and they made the most of it, in football, basketball and track.
In 1984-85, his junior year, Grand Valley’s basketball team went 16-5 before falling to Liberty in the sectionals. The following year, the Mustangs were 19-5 and made it to the district finals before falling to a tough Windham team.
Harriman played point guard on those teams, notching 191 points, 85 rebounds and 50 assists as a junior and 330 points, 80 rebounds and 77 assists as a senior. He was joined in the starting lineup by Henson at shooting guard or wing, Nichols at forward, Benje at center and Granger at another guard.
“We used a three-guard system,” Harriman said. “Brian Olah was our sixth man off the bench. Jim (Henson, already in the ACBF Hall of Fame) was the leading scorer; I led in assists. He was a better shooter than I was.
“All of us had our roles and we had a nice little run. It’s a shame it came to an end before regionals, but Windham was really good... had a couple of good players. But it was a lot of fun.”
At the core of the Mustangs’ success was their coach, Tom Henson, another member of the ACBF Hall of Fame.
“We responded to his toughness and aggressiveness,” Harriman said. “We were so aggressive. Defensively, he did a good job with us, had us playing as hard as we could. He got everything he could out of us.
“I definitely appreciated it. He had a tight-knit group of assistants. We had the same coaches every year. (Schools) don’t have that longevity to the system now. We were fortunate as athletes that we had the same staff in football, basketball and track every year.”
Harriman might have been a better track athlete than basketball player. Running the 400-meters, he placed sixth in the state as a senior.
“I still, as of today, have the school record in the 400 at 49.8,” he said. “A lot of our school records are still up there from the classes of 1984-1987, some of Mick Shoaf’s and our 3200-meter relay team’s. But basketball was my favorite sport.”
Harriman was also a running back and linebacker on some very good Mustang football teams. Grand Valley made it to the playoffs the year after he graduated, before being beaten by Hawken, which could boast having future NFL star O.J. McDuffie on its athletic teams.
Harriman remembers McDuffie from the previous year.
“We went into the Hawken (football) game 3-0 or 4-0,” he said. “That was his first game as a wide receiver. The most impressive thing about him is his ability on the basketball court. You couldn’t make an outlet pass because of his reactions. He was a different level of an athlete.”
After graduation from Grand Valley, Harriman gave football a shot at Mercyhurst as a defensive back. But an injury ended his career there after a year.
He joined the United States Army and spent 91⁄2 years there, advancing to an E-6 (master sergeant) level.
“I was in Desert Storm,” he said. “I spent six months over there, from October 1990 to April, 1991.”
As a member of the First Cavalry, Harriman was in a howitzer section, handling ammunition.
“When you go into something as well-prepared as we were, you don’t think twice about (the danger),” he said. “The military is a good system. I learned a lot working with everyone. Everyone has to work as a team. Everyone works together because of the system.”
Because he had some college experience, the rest of Harriman’s career was spent in a safe environment. Most of the time, he served as a recruiter or a trainer.
“The last two years, I was a drill sergeant,” he said. “I got out as an E-6. If I’d stayed in, I would have been an E-7 within a year, but one of my goals was to teach and coach. I never lost track of that. And I think I was burned out a bit. I was halfway to retirement, but I have to be all in to something; I can’t be 85 percent.”
When he got out of the service in 1998, Harriman was 30 years old. He went back to college under the GI Bill and worked his way through a bachelor’s degree in health and physical education and a master of arts in teaching at Cameron University in Oklahoma.
He had married while in the service, but that lasted only a few years. There was one daughter, Caitlin, from the union.
“My daughter was up in Ohio with my ex-wife, so I made the decision to come back (to Ohio),” he said. “I was offered a job at Berkshire High School as a health and physical education teacher and junior high school football and basketball coach. I taught and coached there through the 2004-2005 football season under Mike Stiles.
“They fired Mike after that year. We were building something. It was a tough time for me personally.”
Harriman took the defensive coordinator job at Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin the next year, 2005, while continuing to teach at Berkshire. But that lasted just a year when the head coach there was fired.
“I was starting to take that personally now,” Harriman said.
But he applied for the head coaching job at Newbury and got it, serving in that capacity from 2006 to 2009, again while teaching at Berkshire. He found the difficulties in that job that have already been cited.
He continued teaching at Berkshire until 2012. That made it 10 years of teaching, and for Harriman, that was enough.
“I like change,” he said. “It’s kind of refreshing. I’m 46 now. I’ve spent the last two years doing social media, a business for educators.”
He moved to Nashville recently.
“I have a few friends here,” he said. “It was a matter of wanting change.”
He keeps himself busy trying to get established in the social media business. His website, OurhouseUSA provides, educators a chance to air mutual concerns.
“We can connect people quickly all over the country,” he said. “It gives people a chance to get involved in their school districts.”
His daughter, Caitlin (Thompson), is a stay-at-home mother married to an Air Force member and is living in Fairfield, Calif. The couple has one daughter, Caroline.
His parents, Gary and Shirley, still live in Orwell. They have two other children: Tom, who graduated from Grand Valley in 1982; and Gary, a 1984 GV graduate.
“They were very supportive,” Harriman said. “I always knew my parents were there (at games).”
Harriman also credits his coaches: Ralph Turk, Joanne Bevacqua, Don Marsh, Gary Hines, Ron Chutas and Jim and Tom Henson.
“I appreciate them,” he said. “You always knew what to expect from them.”
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sportswriter, is a freelance writer from Geneva.