Former Holmdel Basketball Standout Honors Late Father With Sunday’s Run to Remember 5K
Jeff Harris knows how to make the best of a bad situation. He made that much clear as a senior at Holmdel High School in 2015, when, while nursing a torn ACL in his knee, he found a way to participate in his final season with the Holmdel boys basketball team.
He was not the full version of his basketball self, but Harris got to spend the season playing with his teammates while going out on his terms as best he could.
In April of 2020, the challenge was much more difficult for Harris and his family. Ed Harris, Jeff’s father and himself a former standout athlete at Holmdel, contracted COVID-19 during the early stages of the pandemic and battled it for nearly three weeks before it claimed his life on April 18.
Almost 17 months to the day since losing his father, Jeff Harris is ready to contribute his part in making the most of his family tragedy by staging a 5K for charity Sunday at Holmdel High School, where both father and son made a name for themselves in the athletic arena.
“He was a really good athlete at Holmdel and the school and the community always meant a lot to him,” Jeff Harris said of his father. “When we brought the idea to the school, they gladly accepted our request to have them host. Holmdel has been a big part of our family, so what better place to honor my dad?”
The Run to Remember 5K is set for Sunday at 8 a.m., with signup and registration beginning at 6:30 a.m. and running until 7:45 in the school parking lot. All ages are welcome to either run or walk in person and there is even a virtual option for those who cannot make it to Holmdel High School.
In addition to remembering Ed Harris, Sunday’s event will raise money for the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund, whose stated mission is to address the social, economic and medical impact of COVID-19 on New Jersey’s most vulnerable. A portion of the money raised will also be donated to Hope for Children, a registered 501 (C3) made up of professionals, entrepreneurs and parents in Monmouth County whose stated mission is working together to raise funds to make a significant positive difference in the lives of children.
“The two charities we picked to raise money for both deal a lot with families that have been affected by the pandemic,” Jeff Harris said. “It’s been great working with both of them and I hope the money we have raised and are still hoping to raise can make a difference.”
In reality, Jeff Harris has been working on this fundraiser long before September of 2021. His father was a standout sprinter and runner on Holmdel’s track and field team and is still the school-record-holder in the 100-meter dash, which he set in 1982 with a time of 11.0. Like his sons, Jeff and Nick, Ed was also a varsity basketball player at Holmdel, but running was his passion during his high-school days.
“We have been planning this for a while,” Harris said. “I knew I wanted to find a way to give back and a 5K made the most sense. It was just a matter of figuring out when to do it and September 19 was the day we landed on when we felt like we could do it with the least amount of restrictions.”
Given Ed Harris’s track exploits, Jeff knew a 5K in the run-happy town of Holmdel would be the perfect setting to both honor his father and bring awareness to the struggle that so many families have had to endure since the start of the pandemic, much like the Harris’s did.
Ultimately, this project has been as much about giving back to the community that helped the Harris family grieve as it has been about honoring Ed Harris. In the aftermath of Ed’s passing, friends set up a GoFundMe page to help his family to offset the cost of the memorial service and other hardship brought about by his untimely death. At the time, funerals ran counter to the emergency executive order by the governor prohibiting indoor gatherings, so the community found a way to set up a drive-by memorial service for Ed Harris at the family’s home.
“When he passed, it was horrible,” Jeff Harris said. “Then the GoFundMe was set up and seeing people contribute to it and the messages people left was really comforting. We couldn’t have a funeral, but we were able to do a drive-by memorial service at our house. The town really stepped up and helped us out and just seeing people rally around our family and being able to be around people after the restrictions were lifted has helped a lot with the grieving process.”
As a fixture in Holmdel and Monmouth County through the years, there was no shortage of people willing to help remember Ed Harris. His father, Joe, started Holmdel Farms Landscaping, raised seven active sons in the area and passed the business to Ed. The relationships forged by Joe Harris and his children over the years have been on full display to Jeff while putting together the fundraiser.
“When my dad died, there were so many people that he had come in contact with through his business and just in his years in the Holmdel community who wanted to do anything they could to honor him and help his family,” Jeff Harris said. “In that way, we were extremely lucky but a lot of kids and a lot of families going through what we are going through aren’t as fortunate and I thought it was really important to try to help those families the way so many people stepped up and helped us.”
While they both played basketball at Holmdel like their father, Jeff and Nick Harris were not the runners that Ed was. In forging ahead with Sunday’s Run to Remember, they are hoping this is another piece of their lasting connection to their father’s legacy, both as an athlete and as a man.
“The more events we have in his honor, the more his legacy lives on,” Jeff Harris said. “He was very proud of his time at Holmdel and proud of being part of the Track and Field history there, so I can’t think of a better way to remember him.”