McNairy Central High School’s 2018 baseball team will never forget their teammate, the late U.S. Army Cpl. Hayden Allen Harris.

They called the ever-smiling baseball player and avid golfer “Opie.”

The senior-laden Bobcats came through the district tournament to win the school’s first championship since 2012 on May 9, 2018.

“Hayden was a great kid, always respectful and kind hearted,” said assistant baseball coach Stacy Riley. “He was the type person who would do anything for anyone.”

“You knew from the moment you met him that he was destined to do something great,” added Riley, also the MCHS head boys basketball coach.

Harris’ teammates could not stop with their platitudes discussing their memories of their fallen teammate.

Harris died Dec. 19 in Byram Township, N.J., where authorities say he was fatally shot by a fellow Army soldier. Murder charges have been filed in the case.

“I began playing ball with ‘Opie’ at age four and went to school with him from kindergarten at Ramer School until he graduated at McNairy Central,” said Stone Teague. ”He was the type who would never quit. ‘Opie’ was always trying to help someone on the team.”

Austyn Pearson said Harris was the best team player he had ever played with in his career. “He was always excited about the team whether he got to play or not. I was devastated when I learned what had happened to him. I did not want to believe it was true,” said Pearson.

“‘Opie’ was the hardest worker on the team,” said Connor Jones. “He was always raking the field or cleaning up around the field. ‘Opie’ was there for you as a teammate, fellow student or as a close friend.”

Harris’ claim to fame on the field happened on May 9, 2018 when he came out of the bullpen to pitch 7 2/3 innings to be the winning pitcher in McNairy Central’s 11-10 championship win in extra innings over Riverside.

Harris had pitched only five innings in the regular season.

“It was my birthday and I was so happy for ‘Opie’,” said Jones. “We were all so excited for ‘Opie’ and the team. We may have shed a few tears after that win.”

Bobcats’ catcher Dru Yopp will carry many memories of ‘Opie’ when he is playing baseball this spring at Southwest Tennessee Community College.

“I will think about ‘Opie’ every time I step on the field,” said Yopp. “He was down-to-earth and thought more of others than he did of himself.”

Parker Childers carries the fun memory of ‘Opie’ teaching he and his twin brother Peyton how to drive a stick shift.

“We had a lot of fun while he taught us to drive his Dodge Ram Cummins pickup,” said Parker.

A more important lesson was “Opie” convinced the Childers brothers to go to church with him at Lakeview Baptist Church. “Opie” would pick them up every Sunday and Wednesday to take them to church.

Peyton said he and Harris have been friends since elementary school and he will never forget him. “‘Opie’ would have been a good coach because he could always tell you what you did wrong at the plate or on the mound,” said Peyton.

Harris was the first friend that his teammates have lost and it has been hard. They first heard he was missing and later got the sobering news that he was gone.

“I hoped when I first heard he was missing they would find him alive,” recalled a shaken Peyton Childers. “When I found out he was gone ...” his voice trailing off. “I waited about 10 minutes and then I just started crying.”

While Harris last game pitching as a Bobcat was like a Disney movie with a happy ending, the same can’t be said in the history of life just two years removed from his high school days.

His death leaves a heartbroken group of classmates and teammates and a grieving community who will miss their “Opie.”

Editor

A 1981 University of Tennessee - Martin graduate, Mark Boehler has over 40 years of journalism experience. His wife Dawn is the love of his life and they share five grown children and 10 grandchildren. His passion is his work - writing and photography.

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