IT WAS NEVER HARD to tell what Harry James liked. He told you.
Monday, when the University of Utah tennis team played Cal-Irvine, and Harry was there in his usual place, watching from his wheelchair along the walkway between courts, was a good example. He touched on a few his favorite topics:About the Utah tennis team: They have a lot of potential and some "good" local kids, which he liked to see.
About the BYU tennis team: They've got a couple of new players that will help them a lot.
About fishing: No, he hadn't been lately, but he recalled some of his better days at Strawberry and said he couldn't wait to get back there.
About his family: He talked about his grandkids, mostly, - "You should see my little granddaughter (play tennis). She's going to be great. She hits the ball so well you wouldn't believe it," he said - and about soon becoming a great-granddad.
About his players: He talked about Jeff (Weichers) and Chris (Reilly). He'd coached them a few years back and said they were, "good players and good boys." They produced Utah's only two singles wins that night.
About himself: He was fine. Feeling a lot better, he said.
With Harry, every tennis team was good; he never got in enough fishing; talking about his grandkids put him on an instant natural high; all "his boys" were good boys; and he was always fine . . . and he smiled after he said it to prove it.
Wednesday he died. A heart attack at 69.
In the following days a lot will likely be said about his accomplishments - 26 years a tennis coach at Utah, winner of 12 WAC titles, producer of seven All-Americas and 25 nationally ranked players, president of probably every tennis organization ever started and a genuine nice guy. All this, it will be pointed out, he did while confined most of his life to a wheelchair.
What may not surface was how terribly much he loved tennis, Utah tennis especially, and "his boys." A lot of tennis players were touched by Harry James and are better today because of it.
One calm afternoon, from his seat in the center of a fishing boat on Strawberry Reservoir, showing off the "James Technique" that had won him acclaim on this reservoir, he explained that every player that ever signed on at Utah was "his boy."
They were as much his son, he said, as if he'd fathered them. He laughed with them, cried with them, counseled them, chastised them, coached them and loved them.
No one was more nervous when they competed than Harry. He ached with them when they lost and enjoyed with them their successes - on and off the court.
His players called him "coach," and his wife, Margaret, "mom." They were welcome in his home, to his fridge, to his help and his advice if they asked.
Back in September of 1986, a group of his former players organized a retirement dinner for both Harry and Margaret.
Those that could come did and many of those that couldn't sent telegrams. There were not many of his 26 teams that weren't represented, and in many cases by several players.
At the conclusion, his players presented Harry with a fishing boat and motor. There was, said one of the organizers, no reluctance at all by his players to contribute. Most, he said, couldn't give enough.
Harry James will best be remembered for his contributions to tennis. It is there that his work was most evident.
A lot of Utah tennis players, however, will remember Harry for what he did for them. He cared, and it showed. And if he could say it now, it's probably that that he's most satisfied about.
Score this life: 6-love, 6-love - Harry James.