Longtime Baldwin High coach Kit Harris wins national award

Kit Harris nearly threw away an important letter last month.

He saw an envelope from the National Federation of State High School Associations, but pushed it aside for almost a week. Before it was tossed in the trash – with no intentions – Harris decided to open and read it. 

Good choice for the longtime Baldwin High (Kansas) wrestling coach and teacher.

The letter revealed Harris was the recipient of the 2020-21 NFHS National Girls Wrestling Coach of the Year. He coached the BHS girls team to the 2021 Kansas State High School Activities Association Class 4A-1A state championship. 

Harris was also honored as the Kansas Coaches Association Coach of the Year and NFHS Midwest Section Coach of the Year. He advanced from the state award winner to the Midwest winner before the letter came recognizing the national award.

“We got this letter and Sarah handed it to me, and I’m kind of bad about setting things aside sometimes if I don’t feel it’s urgent or important,” Harris said. “So, I sat it on my desk and a week went by. Sarah asked me if I needed it and I set it on the bed. I got to opening it a couple hours later, and I was like, ‘Oh, does that say what I think it says?’ 

“I had to re-read it and I asked her to read it. I said, ‘Whoa, this is pretty cool.’ It’s funny because it was sitting on that desk for six days. Sarah sometimes gets in a cleaning frenzy and she’ll throw things out, so she almost threw it out. They would have notified me someway that the letter got there.”

Upon winning the award, Harris thought about the Baldwin community that has been his home in his youth and again for the past 20-plus years. The BHS alumnus returned to his hometown in 1999 after teaching and coaching at Washburn Rural High in Topeka.

Harris also coached the BHS boys team to a state championship in 2015. In addition to winning two team titles at BHS, he has also coached eight individual state champs, 17 state finalists and 56 state placers.

“My first thought was I’ve in Baldwin a long time, and right now I’m getting kind of emotional even thinking about it,” Harris said. “There are so many memories all of all of these kids, coaching experiences, tournaments, parents and families. Then there are the times of being in the weight room or the South Gym to the current room now. I have all of these memories – highs and lows of these awesome years of coaching at my hometown, the school I’m so proud of and the community I love. That’s what it really means to me. It’s a lot of pride in being the Baldwin High wrestling coach.”

Assistant coach Sarah Johnson, who graduated from BHS in 2009, was excited to hear about Harris’ award. She knows how much Baldwin City means to him, and that’s why she was thrilled for him.

“Honestly, he deserves it,” Johnson said. “There’s no one more deserving than Kit. One, he is dedicated to Baldwin more than any person I know, and not only do the people of Baldwin know that, but I think everyone should know that. Not only am I so proud of him, but I’m lucky I get to learn everything from him.”

Baldwin High assistant wrestling coach Sarah Johnson, left, talks to head coach Kit Harris at a dual at Santa Fe Trail High last month. (Photo by Jimmy Gillispie)

Harris has been a big promoter of wresting for many years. He’s served as the Team Kansas Cadet Freestyle/Greco Coach for seven years while also serving three terms as the Kansas Wrestling Coaches Association president.

In addition, he’s tried to get girls wrestling sanctioned for years. He was sure it would grow once it became official, and he was correct. 

Kansas held its first girls state championship in 2020, and the numbers of participants has grown exponentially in the past two years. That has happened all across the country, and Harris is proud to be a part of that.

“Once it got sanctioned, it absolutely exploded,” Harris said. “I knew it would happen and we knew it would happen – all of the coaches trying to get it going and organized. We said once you sanction it and give them a chance, it’s going to take off. Once they got it approved, it blew up. The girls have taken to the sport with so much passion. I love coaching them. They’re so excited and eager to learn. They’re trying to bring their friends into the sport. The way they support each other at duals, meets and tournaments is just incredible. The whole girls wrestling thing has been an incredible spark to the sport in general.

“… Once they sanctioned it, schools are hiring separate girls coaches and girls programs are taking off. There are girls-only tournaments. … You used to see a girl in a wrestling room and think she must be tough. But now, there are lots of girls in the room. They’re just wrestlers, not this secondary side of the sport. They truly have a presence in this sport.”

– story by Jimmy Gillispie

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