Longhorn Hall of Honor: Jenny (Hayes) Harris
Nov. 12, 2009
Growing up in the frigid reality of Michigan, Jenny (Hayes) Harris found refuge on a volleyball court, and it was also because of volleyball that Jenny later sought out another warm climate.
This time, in Austin, Texas, with the Texas Longhorns.
She was at UT for only two years, but during that time blossomed into one of the most dominant middle blockers in Texas Volleyball history, and in doing so, helped the Longhorns lay the foundation for the dominant volleyball tradition that exists today.
Throughout the 1980 and 1981 seasons, with (Hayes) Harris and fellow Hall of Honor member Sally Schlobohm anchoring the middle, the Longhorns won 100 matches, and lost just 22. In 1981, they captured the program’s first ever national championship.
In leading UT to the 1981 AIAW national championship, (Hayes) Harris claimed first-team All-America honors and was named player of the year by the Texas Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women.
Reality proved different than (Hayes) Harris’ expectation when she transferred to UT after two years at Kellogg Community College in her hometown of Battle Creek, Mich.
“I came down there just a young whippersnapper,” she recalled. “There wasn’t a feeling of greatness on my part. I was with all these great players from all over the state of Texas. I didn’t come in there cocky, because I didn’t even know if I would play.”
According to (Hayes) Harris the fact that she was even playing volleyball was an accident. It started because she was in a gym -- where it was warm -- and her friends needed an extra person to field a team.
“And I just happened to be there,” (Hayes) Harris recalled.
She was 11 at the time, but never found a good enough reason to stop playing. (Hayes) Harris moved up and played Junior Olympic ball, and then played for a club team founded by Mick Haley, who eventually became the head coach at Texas.
“I’m forever grateful that Mick picked Texas,” (Hayes) Harris says, “because I was going wherever he went.”
And when (Hayes) Harris reflects on those UT seasons today, she doesn’t talk about numbers, or even wins and losses. Instead, she relishes her teammates, and the memories they shared.
They ran ramps together in the old football stadium, in a fog of bat manure. They practiced up on the stage at Gregory Gym, back when intramural basketball warranted the main floor.
And when they got stomped by eventual national champion Southern California at the UCLA Invitational in the winter of 1980, she remembers the Longhorns being embarrassed by their bad volleyball and their even worse ill-fitting, polyester uniforms.
They made up for it a year later, though.
UT defeated USC at the same tournament on Nov. 7, 1981. The Women of Troy went on to claim the NCAA national title, but the November triumph gave credence to the Longhorns’ claim that they were, indeed, the country’s best that season.
(Hayes) Harris remembers the migration to Austin as a “culture shock, but a fun one.” She -- and her reserved Michigan upbringing -- also shared the court with Nell Fortner, and all of her southern graces.
Her transition to the south was complete after only a month, though. During practice, (Hayes) Harris yelled out instructions, and suddenly, everything went quiet. Fortner eventually broke the disbelieving silence, shouting in celebration, “Y’all, Jenny finally said, ‘Y’all.’”
(Hayes) Harris moved to Austin with Haley, who took over the Texas Volleyball program after leading Kellogg to a pair of NJCAA national titles. (Hayes) Harris was on both of those championship teams, and was also a two-time junior college All-American.
“I just knew I wanted to go with Mick somewhere warm. Luckily it was Texas,” she recalls. “I have some of my best memories from those years in Austin -- the bluebonnets, the crystal-blue skies in February.”
(Hayes) Harris received her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1983, and currently teaches special education and communication arts in Lee’s Summit, Mo. She is married to Don Harris, and they have two children, Kate and Mike.
Kate is a freshman setter for Missouri. Mike plays as well. And they have allowed (Hayes) Harris to transition from volleyball player to coach -- she’s molded them both on the court since early in their youth.
“They’ve really made it fun,” (Hayes) Harris says. “It’s always been fun for me, but it’s certainly different in your eyes when you’re teaching, and they’re your children. We couldn’t play and not have both of them play.”