Scholarship in honor of former coach

Jackson Cook, Sports Editor

For two decades Rodney “The Rock” Harrison coached the Cougar varsity football team. Harrison died of a brain tumor in 2000 and now has a scholarship and statue in his honor. But a great number of current students are unaware of his service to our school.

Harrison graduated from our school in 1973 and was the starting center for the football team. He was nicknamed “The Rock” for being the foundation and soul of his squad.

After his graduation Rock left Wake Forest to attend East Carolina University.

In the spring of 1978, the Cougars suddenly found themselves without a head football coach. With little time to spare to prepare for the upcoming football season, Rock was offered the job.

Only five years after Rock had taken off his shoulder pads and WFR jersey, he was the head football coach at his alma mater.

John Cook played for Rock in 1979, in the second year of his coaching tenure. Cook also happens to be Rock’s brother-in-law.

“I was very impressed that Rock had the foresight to immediately understand that the high school principal was offering him a once-in-a lifetime opportunity to serve as the head football coach at the school where he once played football,” Cook said.

Rock coached the Cougars successfully for 20 years and cherished the opportunity.
In his 20 seasons as Rock had a record of 83-81-1. The team also made four appearances in the state playoffs.
In 1994 Rock was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor that threatened his life. Despite this diagnosis, Rock continued to coach.
Rock was severely afflicted by the cancer and was forced to coach the Cougars from a golf cart during his last season on the sidelines in Trentini.

“Rock’s face would draw on one side. He would lose his balance on the sidelines, so he started using a cane. He was having such a hard time keeping his balance that he got rid of the cane and coached from the golf cart,” his wife Debra Harrison said.

In 1998 Rock stepped down from the head coaching job. The resignation from his job was a hard pill to swallow for the tough coach.

“People rallied around Rock, and the players were playing for him, but he felt like they needed a real coach who has 100 percent, not just part of a coach,” Debra Harrison said.

Rock finally succumbed to his tumor in 2000. His death impacted many in the Wake Forest community.
In 2002 a statue was erected at Trentini stadium to honor Rock. The funds for the statue were raised by family, friends, school staff, the current student body and members of the community who all wanted to honor the man who gave his all to the school.

Current football coach Reggie Lucas played for Rock from 1985 to 1989. Before every football game ,Lucas has the varsity football team walk by Rock’s statue to pay their respects to the old ball coach.

“He’s so close to me because I played for him, and it’s just a way to honor him. I feel like my team is going to be taken care of every home game because we touch him and honor him and go to that field,” Lucas said.

Numerous staff members currently teaching at our school played football for Rock. As well as Lucas, Justin Richards, Zach Richards and Glen Dillard all had Rock as their coach.

“Coach Harrison instilled character traits into you, like integrity. He was always emphasizing what it meant to work hard and try to improve every practice,” Justin Richards said. “I think what turned a lot of players on to him was his passion for the game. He had so much energy and passion for football. It was very easy for players to buy in and get on the same page with him.”

Many staff members worked with Rock. Cathy Hales, Diane Ray, Vicki Crouse, Becky Holder, Barbara Horton and Cynthia Sovich all roamed the halls of our school with Harrison.

“Coach Harrison was, as his nickname said, a Rock. He was a solid part of the school. He taught PE here for many years with my husband, Ron Hales. He was someone who people knew they could respect,” Cathy Hales said.

To keep the memory of the coach alive, the Rock Harrison Endowment Fund Scholarship was established in 2003.
The scholarship is awarded to a varsity athlete at our school who has above average grades and exhibits good character and leadership. A sum of $2000 is awarded in total. $500 is given to the scholarship recipient every year they are in college as long as his/her GPA is maintained.

All of these efforts have been made to ensure the legacy and memory of Rock Harrison does not fade out and become forgotten.

Rock was born and raised in Wake Forest and also lived out his adult life here committed to our school.

Lucas said, “I just think that anybody that knew him knew how dedicated he was to our school and our community. That means a lot to people in a small town, somebody that’s willing to be at a school so long.”