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Spotlight on Former Athlete: JoJo Harris - Track & Field 1991-1996
Flip of the coin paved way for Harris
By Bruce Brown
ORANGE, Texas – There are numerous ways to make a decision on your future, especially if you're a promising high school athlete in line for a college scholarship in your sport.
Is the program a good one?
Can they use your talents?
Will you improve if you go there?
Is it close to home? Too close? Too far?
Will the academic experience help mold your future path?
JoJo Harris mulled her options as she finished a sterling track and field prep career in Orange in 1991.
It came down to McNeese State in nearby Lake Charles, La., or USL in Lafayette, and the solution was an unusual one.
“A flip of the coin,” said Harris, who for the last 15 years has helped manage her family's feed store in Orange. “McNeese was in my backyard. I didn't know anyone at USL.
“My dad said, 'Flip a coin; best 3 of 5.' USL won, and it was the best decision of my life. My dad said it would be good for me to go to USL because my mom and I were very close.
“It was far enough that I had the freedom to grow up. I learned to be on my own. I had no family or friends there, so I had to start over. I went from being a big fish in a little pond to a little fish in a big pond.
“I never had a problem making friends, and I made some lifelong connections in Cajun Country.”
She also gave a growing Cajun women's program some shining moments as a discus thrower and shot putter for coach Charles Lancon's juggernaut-to-be.
A 140-foot thrower in high school, Harris improved a remarkable 40 feet to a school-record 180-11 before she was done. She also scored well in the shot put with a best of 44 feet, although discus was her first love.
“It was myself and Kayla Fontenot, from Gueydan, in the discus,” Harris said. “I had been one of the top throwers in the state of Texas. I was consistent at 135-136 in high school, then won the state discus my senior year (at 140-1).
“I enjoyed the discus. I just put the shot because I had to.”
Competition and Training
Lancon was the throws coach when Harris arrived on the scene, and he quickly had an impact on her.
“That first semester, I ran more than I had ever run in my life,” Harris said. “And, I am not a runner. I developed muscles where I didn't have them before.\
“I grew up on a farm, so I knew about hard work. I was already strong. Now I was strong in ways I hadn't been before. Also, I lived on campus and ate the right things, and that made a huge difference.”
Boo Schexnayder took over coaching throws in Harris's junior year, and was able to elevate her performances to that 180-foot range.
“My technique changed,” Harris said. “Boo was a very meticulous guy who made sure you took the right steps every time. I got stronger and better.”
Harris redshirted outdoors as a junior, then Schexnayder left for a position at LSU, leaving her a bit rudder-less.
“My senior season, I kind of did my own thing, and still advanced to nationals,” said Harris said, who narrowly missed a chance to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials for the 1996 Games in Atlanta.
“I improved 40 feet in the discus and had a lot of fun,” she added.
Highlights and Teamwork
“My biggest meet was at LSU in 1994,” Harris said. “That's when I had the big one (throw) and made it to Nationals. I remember we went to Boise, Idaho, for the meet and we said, 'Does their football team really have a blue field?' and, sure enough, it was blue. We couldn't believe it.
“Two years later, we went to the Nationals in Eugene, Oregon.”
Soon the Cajun program was bristling with talent and taking command of the Sun Belt Conference Track and Field world. The zenith of that growth was 1993, when the Cajun men and women swept to team titles both indoors and outdoors – an unprecedented feat yet to be duplicated.
Lancon was Coach of the Year in the four categories. It was complete domination.
“That was kind of special,” Harris said. “And it too all of us to do that.”
Harris did her part with a winning 157-foot discus effort.
That teamwork theme runs strongly through Harris in a sport sometimes seen as a group of individuals more than a cohesive unit.
“We never looked at ourselves as individuals,” she said. “We won as a team, and lost as a team. There is no 'I' in Team. It's really not an individual sport. We compete in different events.
“It's all about winning the meet, and It takes all of us.”
“You were expected to pull your weight, and everybody stepped up. A lot of them had personal best performanes,” Harris said. “Every group had older athletes, and younger ones, and the older ones would take the young ones under their wing and tell them what was expercted of them.
“All of them gave everything they've got, and that was usually good enough. We had a really good set of coaches and athletes. They demanded a lot, both in the track and in the classroom. But that's what they're supposed to do.”
Those track and field athletes of the Lancon regime have remained close through Facebook and other connections, and the current UL staff – with former USL pole vaulter Lon Badeaux in charge and Tommy Badon back for his second tour with the program – have kindled that closeness with frequent Track & Field reunions.
Harris, for one, thrives on that close-knit chemistry.
“With reunions and Facebook, you can keep up with everybody,” she said. “You watch their kids grow up. The reunions have been a blessing.”
Harris is back in Orange, still the farm girl and still just a couple of hours away from her second home in south Louisiana, never very far from the memory of the coin flip that decided a future.
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JoJo is in the top right with her teammates and others from the 1990s during the on-the-field recognition of the 2019 Track & Field Reunion.
Click the Ragin' Cajuns Reunions and Special Events Banner on the right side of the home page at www.athleticnetwork.net to view the listing (chronological order) of reunions. For example the 2019 Track & Field Reunion has five photo galleries, so exercise patience when uploading.
Click here for JoJo and her 1992 teammates.
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Click here for the 2007-present chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.
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