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The Herald-Dispatch sports columnist Chuck Landon

Your name was Antonio Maurice Harris.

But everyone called you “Tony.”

And you called everybody a friend, didn’t you? That’s just how you rolled. It was the wondrous way you chose to live your life, Tony.

You were such an amazing character in the landscape of West Virginia high school athletics. There was no one quite like you, Tony.

There you stood, 5-foot-nothing. And you might have weighed 100 pounds if you had been standing in the rain.

Yet you were larger than life.

That’s what made you so very special, Tony.

It’s also what makes so many of us sad right now. We lost you nine days ago, at the much-too-early age of 53. And I’ll be honest, Tony, as much as we cherish all the memories you gave us and all the ways you enriched our lives, we’re still a little sad right now.

That’s why we are telling and re-telling our favorite tales and anecdotes about you, Tony. It keeps your spirit alive for us. We need that right now because we aren’t ready to let you go yet.

My favorite story? I don’t have just one. It was more a case of the kinship and camaraderie we shared every time we saw each other at Laidley Field or the Charleston Civic Center.

Remember that, Tony?

I’d throw a fake insult or snub your way and you would holler, “Chuckie, baby!” at me and flash a smile that would brighten the gloomiest day. You were like a leprechaun and your pot of gold was your smile.

Then there’s South Charleston High School Athletic Director Bryce Casto’s favorite story about you. Remember back in 1994 when your beloved Capital High School Cougars suffered through a rare year of not making the football playoffs?

Since Casto was the Black Eagles’ head football coach in those days, he invited you to hop on the South Charleston bandwagon.

And did you ever!

Maybe it was merely coincidence, but I prefer to believe it was fate when the Black Eagles rolled to the Class AAA state championship with you proudly there on the sidelines.

Of course, that also meant you got some good-natured needling when you returned to Capital’s camp. Remember how Capital’s trainer, Stan White, would kid you that your Capital ball cap was reversible and had “SC” on the inside?

That’s the sort of effect you had on people, Tony. You made us smile. You made us laugh. You made us happy.

That was your special gift.

And you shared it with everyone indiscriminately.

That’s why North-South football game director Kenny Wright once took you back to Ritchie County High School with him for a week. His football team was going through an emotionally tough time and Wright knew you would be the perfect medicine with your smile and upbeat attitude.

Why, Capital football coach Jon Carpenter even gave you the title of “President of Football Operations.”

You touched everyone, Tony, with your beaming smile, your positive attitude, your willingness to be of service and, of course, that contagious laugh of yours.

I just breathed a heavy sigh as I wrote that last sentence, Tony. That’s because it reminded me of how very much you will be missed.

Your name was Antonio Maurice Harris.

But everybody called you “Tony.”

I always thought you were heaven-sent, and now you’ve returned there. Fly high, my friend.

You’ve got wings now.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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