Port Arthur’s Kenny Harrison cherishes trip to state championship
Published 12:22 am Saturday, December 16, 2023
UPDATE — The final score from Saturday night’s state title game was DeSoto, 74 and Summer Creek, 14
Kenny Harrison tells the story as if it were yesterday. The game. The players. The moment he can recollect his first true memory of the Texas High School Football State Championships.
The year was 1980. A 7-year-old Harrison was attending DeQueen Elementary School in Port Arthur. The district at that time had three high schools — Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin and Thomas Jefferson. In 2002, the three schools would be combined into what today is known as Memorial.
“Port Arthur was a small town, so on Friday night whoever was playing at home, whether it was Lincoln, Stephen F. Austin or Thomas Jefferson, as a kid you’re going to the game unless you had an older sibling playing on one of the other teams,” Harrison said. “Otherwise, you were going to watch the game that was played at home. I loved football growing up, so I got the opportunity to go to the stadium quite a bit and watch games. I could tell you about every kid that probably played in Port Arthur when I was growing up.”
The last of the trio – Thomas Jefferson High School – is where our story starts.
In that 1980 season, the Yellow Jackets advanced to the first-ever Class 5A State Championship Game, it was their first title bout since 1957.
The Yellow Jackets were led by Todd Dodge at quarterback. Yes, the future legendary Texas High School Football coach, who would win seven state titles as a head coach (four at Southlake Carroll and three at Austin Westlake), was QB1 with current Atascocita head football coach Craig Stump, who has led the Eagles to nine-straight Regional Quarterfinals and three-straight Regional Finals appearances, serving as his backup.
Thomas Jefferson faced off with perennial Texas High School football powerhouse Odessa Permian. Yes, the team the movie Friday Night Lights was made after, and the title game was played at old Texas Stadium.
“I just remember reading about it,” Harrison said. “Newspapers were big back then.”
Harrison didn’t attend the game but remembered it was cold at the game from the stories he heard. They led at half but couldn’t hold off MOJO and eventually fell 28-19. His first state title game memory.
“As a young kid watching a dynamic team like that you want to be a part of something like that,” Harrison said. “You grow up wanting the opportunity to win a state championship, to play for a state championship because you hear all of the stories. I didn’t go to the game but I heard so many stories, I felt like I was at the game. This was from being a kid all the way through high school.
“Just a very special group, I could probably name the whole team. I would go watch Thomas Jefferson play when I was a kid. Todd Dodge, Robert Smothers, Kip Cooper, Don Holloway, Bruce Miller, just some phenomenal athletes and just a very good football team.”
Now, 43 years later sitting back in his chair at Summer Creek High School, Harrison is busy in mid-December preparing for his first trip to the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium as a coach competing for a state crown.
Harrison’s Summer Creek team is taking on DeSoto in the Class 6A Division II final at 7 p.m. today at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and with newly hung photos in his office of him getting doused by water bottles and his team celebrating around him from less than 72 hours prior inside McLane Stadium in Waco following a 38-14 Class 6A Division II State Semifinals victory over Cibolo Steele, Harrison is conducting interviews with media and finalizing the itinerary for their trip to Arlington come Friday.
“I’ve always wanted to be a part of a state championship game where I was actually on the field and not in the stands,” Harrison said. “I’ve attended several state championship games over the years as a coach and always visualized myself being a part of that game. So, here it is. My time is now. I’m like a kid now, it’s like I’m playing.
“I’m overly excited, so I’m trying to hide my emotions from the kids because I’m just so excited to have the opportunity to experience something that I’ve been wanting to experience since I was seven-years-old as a kid. I finally get an opportunity to experience that.”
Football and Family
Harrison is a proponent of playing the full 48 minutes.
It is their motto, their hashtag on social media, there’s even a banner with it in the hallway outside the Summer Creek locker room on campus. Harrison is intentional about this mentality.
On Saturday in minute 47, the veteran coach allowed himself to start celebrating. Up by 24 and time ticking down to a state championship game berth, Harrison started fist pumping and the first people that came to mind were his children – Kason and Kadon.
Kason, 20, who is currently in nursing school, and Kadon, 25, who is pursuing an engineering degree, were both in attendance at the State Semifinals victory in Waco.
They had watched their dad coach and chase this dream for the last 14 years. Harrison started at Port Arthur Memorial and was the head coach of the Titans from 2009 until 2017. Then, in 2018, Harrison made the quick drive to Houston and took over Summer Creek.
Harrison hugged Kason and Kadon after the victory, took photos and cherished the moment. This time with his children was special.
“Just thinking about all the time I’ve invested. All the sacrifices that I’ve made with my kids growing up, I get emotional just thinking about that,” Harrison said as tears welled up in his eyes. “You sacrifice so much to try and win a state championship. I look at my son and daughter when they were born and I look up and they’re 18 years old going to college. It was rewarding just to get to this point to finally compete for a state championship.
“It’s always your vision and goal. To do that and my kids are there to see, ‘Ok, now I understand why dad was working so hard and I understand why he was at work so much’. We’re getting rewarded as a family for all the hard work, commitment and dedication he’s put into this job. Heck yeah that’s important to me. To see them come on the field, that was very special.”
Kason and Kadon both will be at AT&T Stadium on Saturday cheering on dad and the Bulldogs as will the Humble ISD community. In the 105-year history of Humble ISD, the Bulldogs of Summer Creek are the first-ever football program to make it to the final game of the season.
So, this trip is for the Summer Creek community, the Humble ISD community, Harrison’s family and of course for that seven-year-old boy in 1980 who started to dream of getting to this point one day.
“It’s just been a great feeling, it definitely makes you want to do it over and over again,” Harrison said. “It brings your community together. We’ve got a special place here. I’m just overly excited about it for so many reasons. It’s been a long time coming.”
“These kids and this community deserve it and Humble ISD deserves it. They invest in athletics, they invest in everything they do. Like [former Principal] Brent McDonald said, ‘Best is the Standard at Summer Creek High School’, so we’re going to do our best.”
— Written by Joshua Koch for Summer Creek High School and Humble Independent School District