Jim Harney says baseball was his best sport, his first love. It’s basketball, though, that defines him. An import from South Dakota, Harney started in basketball when he was 10 and in a crazy journey has gone from top of the college basketball mountain to Poulsbo, where he still is involved in basketball at the age of 87. 
A former All-American Honorable mention player and captain of a Seattle University basketball team that was the best in the land and had the late Elgin Baylor as its star, Harney retired as head high school basketball coach at North Kitsap in 1997 with a final coaching record of 362-329, collected over 33 years, first at Seattle Prep, where he starred as a player, and then with the Vikings. 
He still is with the Vikings, as a volunteer coach for headman Scott Orness. When Chris Egan of King TV of Seattle recently showed up on Jan. 31 to do a feature story on the Vikings and Scott’s son Cade, one of the best players in the region, Scott said to Egan, pointing to Harney over in the corner of the gym, “That is the man you should be doing a story on. He was captain of the Seattle U basketball team with Elgin Baylor.” 
So this week Harney was shown on local TV news, a first among many firsts Harney never would have envisioned when he arrived in Seattle in 1941, with his parents Edward and Pauline and two sisters — Sheila and Patricia. His life became entwined in sports, and he’s now been inducted into the Washington State Coaches Hall of Fame (2002) and the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame (2009). 
Harney’s parents were caught like millions of other in the horrible cost of the Great Depression, losing a butcher shop and gas station besides their home.  
“It was very, very tough times,” says Harney. “I witnessed it and was able to remember pretty clearly.” 
Harney’s dad came west at the urging of friends to get work and a year later the family followed. 
“My mother drove us to Seattle in a Chevy four-door that my grandfather bought her for $500,” says Harney.
Harney wound up at St. Joseph’s Elementary School, and when the family moved to White Center he went to Holy Family Elementary School (where his mother taught). His parents started a grocery store, where he and his sisters worked when they had the time.
It was there Harney got involved in sports, through the White Center Fieldhouse. When Harney reached high school his mother insisted he go to Seattle Prep, an hour and half journey by bus each way. There, Harney met coach Frank Ahern, the Seattle legend who molded him into who he is today.  
“Frank made my life,” says Harney. “He was a phenomenal coach. It’s unbelievable how good he was. I asked him once how he became such an outstanding coach and he said it was Jack Friel at Washington State. Frank had played for him.” 
Harney started in baseball and basketball for Seattle Prep. During his senior year Seattle U coach Al Brightman saw Harney playing in a semi-pro baseball game at Sicks’ Stadium, and offered a scholarship to play baseball and basketball. It was a dream come true for Harney.
Harney, the point guard, would help Seattle U reach the Final Four in 1958 as the Chieftains beat No. 4 San Francisco in the West Regionals and No. 3 Kansas State in the NCAA semifinals. They could have won the national title, but a few questionable fouls on Baylor forced the Chieftains to play an unfamiliar zone defense in the second half against Kentucky, which came from behind to win 84-72 on their home court in the championship game. 
Harney also played semi-pro baseball, his best sport, in Edmonton in the summer of 1955, and in 1956 won the AABC National baseball championship with the Stanley Shoemen in Battle Creek, Michigan.  
While in the army in 1959 at Fort Lewis Harney coached and played on a AAU team and scored 30 points a game in a tournament, leading to an offer from the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers. He would have been paid $3,000 if he made the team, but Harney rejected it because he had an offer to teach and coach at Seattle Prep for $4,000. He coached football, basketball and baseball there, and for two years he coached track. 
After seven years at Prep, Harney moved to the University of Puget Sound with Don Zech, who had been the head basketball coach at Blanchet High School. 
That job took almost all his time because he was also saddled with the job of managing Logger Field house, which at the time was a center of activity, including the Class A state basketball tournament. 
His kids — Colleen, Peggy, Tom and Mike — were near high school age, so he started looking for high school coaching position. He found it at North Kitsap in 1973 and a Hall of Fame career began. 
Harney retired from teaching and coaching in 1997, but has remained closely tied to basketball. He coached seven years at Poulsbo Middle School, attending clinics, holding open gyms and assisting with NKHS coaches that have come before Orness. He also has competed in senior events in slowpitch, basketball and track and field. 
His friend and fellow basketball junkie Al Gleich, who came from the same South Dakota town as Harney (Wagner) and has the same birthday date (March 31), is still involved with basketball 70 years after he started, assisting at Hawkins Middle School in Belfair. 
“He’s a real humble guy,” says Gleich of Harney. “He loves kids and loves teaching them shooting. He’s one of the most passionate guys for basketball I have ever known.” 
When you look up “Gym Rat” in a dictionary there should be a picture of Harney. He lives in gyms. 
“I try to go to every (NK) practice, every game,”  says Harney. “I help with shooting, primarily. Scott is an outstanding coach. I may give him some of my thoughts on something, but he runs his own program and has good assistants.” 
Orness approaches the question of what Harney offers to the program like this: “Well, that might be a better question to ask, ‘How did I come to Harney’s program? His legacy is so big, and in my mind a legend. I feel privileged and lucky to be coaching in Harney’s era.’” 
Harney humbly downplays his love for the game of basketball.  He’s content to be in the gym and be, “Just an old South Dakota Farmer that comes from a competitive sports family that came out of Ireland where they had to fight horribly for everything in their day. They came to this country and people hated them with a passion and sent them to the farm land as homesteaders where they were confronted by soaring heart in summers and blinding storms in winters.” 
Harney survived all of that and for nearly eight decades has found solace in gyms where the only noise is from kids dribbling. 
 “What I enjoy is the gym,” says Harney. “If I was to write a book, the title would be ‘Joy in the Gym.’” 




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Arabic Arabic Bulgarian Bulgarian Chinese (Simplified) Chinese (Simplified) Croatian Croatian Czech Czech Danish Danish Dutch Dutch English English French French German German Hindi Hindi Italian Italian Japanese Japanese Korean Korean Portuguese Portuguese Russian Russian Spanish Spanish