Harris in unique spot as middle school principal, college wrestling coach

Jan. 25—A typical day for Joel Harris is different from most other people's typical day.

It's not necessarily the length of his work day that separates him, but rather the things that are involved in those 12-hour days. Middle school principal by day, college wrestling coach by night, he gets a unique perspective on a daily basis.

"I leave Oak Hill (home) at about 6:15 in the morning. I roll in at Park Middle School about 6:45 and it goes from there," Harris said. "So I don't stop until 7 o'clock at night. My days are about 12 hours and there's a lot in there. But after a while you just get used to it and it's just, 'Let's do it.' And you just make it work."

Harris, who has been the principal at Park since 2019, is in his first year as the head wrestling coach at WVU Tech. He had been the assistant coach to Dustin Stough for four seasons.

The first half of his day is spent helping navigate the minefield that is the preteen to early teen years. Then it's off to the Tech campus, helping turn young men into adults as they prepare to enter the real world.

"It's unusual, and probably most people would not care to do something like that," Harris said. "They maybe are smarter than me. I don't know what it is. I like both age groups. I like my day job and I like my evening coaching job. I enjoy what I do. It's long hours, but I like it and it works."

But it wouldn't work without plenty of competent assistance.

"You have to be organized and you have to have help," he said. "I have great help at Park Middle School, great staff to help me there. Logan Robertson came on this year as an assistant (wrestling coach at Tech). He was a very successful college wrestler and he helps me in practice."

There is certainly nothing unusual about teachers or administrators doubling as coaches. It's just normally not at the college level, where Harris has the responsibility of recruiting, which again has him working double duty — this time as Dad.

Harris can often be found at high school tournaments watching his son Troy, a junior 138-pounder at Woodrow Wilson. He's there to support his son, but he's also watching the other wrestlers, in search of possible future Golden Bears.

Two weeks ago Harris was with his team in Laurinburg, N.C., for duals with St. Andrews and Allen universities. The next day, he was back in the Mountain State to watch the Winner's Choice high school tournament in Fairmont.

"I bounce around to all these high school tournaments and talk to these (wrestlers) and coaches all the time," he said. "I do a lot of recruiting on the evenings and weekends. ... That's what I do about seven days a week."

The Harris name, of course, is well known in local wrestling circles. He was a two-time state place winner at Greenbrier West for his dad Toby Harris. He joined Toby as an assistant coach in 1994 and assumed the head coaching role the following year.

Harris went on to become head coach at Oak Hill, all the while serving as a teacher and principal at Collins Middle School, before his move to Park in 2013 as assistant principal.

Harris found another Greenbrier West grad to help him in his first season.

Assistant coach Logan Robertson was a four-time all-stater, first as a freshman at Shady Spring before transferring to West. He won a state championship as a senior in 2016.

Two years later he started his college career at Tech while Harris was an assistant.

In 2020, Robertson was an NAIA national qualifier in his final season with the Golden Bears. He still had a year of eligibility remaining, so he went on to Liberty University, one of the top NCWA programs in the nation.

The 2021 NCWA season was canceled due to Covid, leaving Roberson still with that one more year. He made it count, winning the 133-pound national championship in the final match of his career.

Robertson wasn't ready to get out of wrestling. He set his sights on coaching and considered a position at a high school in Lynchburg, Va. However, high rent prices and the lack of a stable job prevented that from happening.

Robertson had resigned himself to not coaching this season and was prepared to possibly become an official, until he received an unexpected phone call.

"Two or three months ago, Coach Joel reached out to me and asked if I was interested in coaching, and said he was looking around for people who were interested," Robertson said. "I just let him know that I was looking for somewhere to coach. Immediately whenever he reached out to me I got excited, because if it worked out it would be a great opportunity for me, getting in here, my alma mater. Basically I wasn't going to coach anywhere else and it kind of just fell in my lap. It turned out to be a good opportunity for me."

"Things just kind of fell into place," Harris said. "He graduated and moved back to Greenbrier County. I was looking for somebody to help me out. We just made contact and it just kind of worked out.

"He was excited about it. He's always wanted to get into coaching. He's a Greenbrier West guy (and) so am I. We work well together and since he went to school here and was a part of this program, he definitely has some interest in that as well."

Robertson is close to the Tech wrestlers' ages — he was actually a teammate of senior Jacob Thomas — which helps, but he said there's another side to that.

"It has taken a little bit to earn their respect as a coach, but I feel like it's going good," Robertson said. "I don't think being young holds me back in the coaching department. I'm learning. I'm enjoying doing it and I'm going to stick with it and see where we can go with it."

Ultimately, it comes down to Robertson's love of wrestling. And it's the same for Harris.

"I come in here just because I want to see the program get better. I want to see the wrestling community, local community get better, and we stay in contact with each other," Harris said.

"I do it because I love it. It's not any other reason. I've been involved in it for just about my whole life. It's important."

The Golden Bears will hold their second and last home match of the season Sunday at Van Peter Gymnasium. They will host Bluefield State and Southwest Virginia Community College starting at 6 p.m.

Email: gfauber@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @gfauber5