His paperwork is nearly complete.
Soon, Jairol Red will be back in his happy place – on the bench in a high school gym teaching the sport of basketball.
Red will join Eli Bynum’s staff at Downey High, where he’ll get to work closely with a special talent: His son, Jairol Harris-Red, a senior guard.
For most of Harris-Red’s athletic career, his father has been in the stands, cheering him on as he streaked into the end zone or down the lane. Harris-Red is worthy of the praise, too. He is a developing prospect at wide receiver and one of the top hoopsters in the Stanislaus District.
Red knows all about the rise.
Nearly 20 years ago, “Jairol” was a familiar name off the tongue of coaches, scouts and reporters. In 1997, Red helped guide Modesto Christian to a 33-0 season and its first state championship.
“No one will know how that program got started,” Red said. “It was such a blessing, a group of people coming together to help kids within the community that wanted a better life. It brightened a lot of kids’ futures.”
Red was showered with scholarship offers and signed with Masters College in Santa Clarita. He played professionally overseas for a short stint, but returned home to be the father he never had.
“He reminds me of me so much, except I think he’s a little more laid back” Red said of Harris-Red, the Knights’ leading receiver and a driving force in their 8-0 start. “Something has to get underneath (his skin) to spark a fire. Since this has happened, he has a fire.”
This story is about two Jairols, a father and son, united for a cause. And for once, that cause doesn’t include a ball, a backyard basket, or pads.
In May, Red, a model of perfect health for most of his 37 years, had surgery to correct a hernia. On Aug. 1, he and his wife Kelly celebrated their 14th anniversary with a trip to Las Vegas. Red began to experience pain in his abdomen, pain so severe he made an appointment with a physician at Doctors Hospital in Manteca.
There, a CT scan revealed a mass in his stomach.
“It felt like a contraction,” he said of the pain, drawing laughter and a side-eye gaze from Kelly.
“How would you know what a contraction feels like,” she snapped back.
‘What exactly do you mean by noncurative?’
Red was diagnosed with Leiomyosarcoma, and the soft tissue cancer has completely covered his liver and spread to his small intestine. Doctors have classified it as Stage IV because of its aggressive nature.
“They say it’s noncurative, which is very scary,” Kelly said. “The first few times we heard it, we broke down crying. Finally, I asked, ‘What exactly do you mean by noncurative?’
“They said it means they can’t just can’t give someone a pill to get rid of cancer. They can’t prescribe chemo and you’ll be cancer free. They’re very careful of what they say because they don’t want to be held accountable.”
Red knows the road ahead will be rocky and full of mystery. He’ll lose weight and his hair, but he loves a good fight. Abandoned by his father and raised by a single mother to four boys, Red was molded by the Modesto Christian community. He looked to coaches Gary Porter, Bobby Cole and Winfrey Green, a former football player at the University of the Pacific, for guidance.
Basketball was a bonus, he said.
Porter, Cole and Green provided him with the tools to tackle life’s toughest challenges, even full-court press issues like becoming a young father and Stage IV cancer all these years later.
“It was more than just basketball,” said Red, a former coach with Big Valley Christian, Slam-N-Jam, and Chuck Hayes Basketball. “It was basketball, God and family. Even the year we won a state championship, God got all the glory.
“I have faith he’s going to heal me. … Prayer is going to help. That right there is strength. That keeps me. Twenty years after graduating, I still have the same support. From a little kid to a grown man, they’re still there for me, especially the MC family.”
Red begins chemotherapy treatment later this month. Until then, his family will continue to adjust to their new reality. A household once held together by two incomes now survives off disability. Red is on medical leave from Flowers Baking Company in Modesto, and Kelly has left her job to be his full-time caregiver.
‘Sports is the one place where you can let everything go.’
What they’ve lost, though, is nothing compared to what they’ve gained.
At the behest of Porter and Cole, the Modesto Christian basketball family is scrambling to organize a benefit tournament and dinner. Former NBA forward Chuck Hayes is assisting in the search for players on Facebook and plans to play in the tournament.
“We want to make sure this is a success because we’re trying to raise funds for him,” Cole said. “We want to make sure that if any medical situations come up, or in case he doesn’t make it, his family is taken care of. He was a great player here for MC. Jairol has been extremely big-time for me helping with the Slam-N-Jam program and he was like a son to Gary.”
A GoFundMe page has also been established. As of Friday evening, the page had raised $2,765 of its $40,000 goal. The comments on the page are lined with well wishes and scripture.
Red says the support has helped combat the dark clouds of depression and suppressed questions of “Why me?” Instead, Red has remained upbeat, positive and forward-thinking. He welcomes the chance to work with the Downey boys basketball program. Downey was 7-17 in 2016 and hasn’t made the Sac-Joaquin Section playoffs in six years.
“It’s given me the want and drive to be able to help kids, but also to be around my son,” Red said. “Basketball has changed my life. It’s made me a man and competitive, even outside of the gym. It has given me structure and discipline. Coming from where I came from with a mother and father not being there, and seeing Gary and Bobby as father figures, you learn to be a mentor to everyone around you. Sports is the one place where you can let everything go.”
‘I just appreciate it more because he’s there.’
Football has been therapeutic for Harris-Red, who nearly sat out the Knights’ season opener at Buhach Colony. He was told of his father’s diagnosis the day before the Aug. 25 kickoff and thought about missing school. His absence would have made him ineligible to play against the Thunder.
“I took it hard,” Harris-Red said. “It took a toll on me. I see my dad as this … I don’t know how to explain it. He’s an athlete and as an athlete, you have to keep good health. For him to have cancer was unexpected.”
Harris-Red went to school and hasn’t stopped making plays in Downey’s point-per-play “Air Raid” offense. He had three catches against Buhach Colony, including two two-point conversions in a 58-55 double-OT win.
One week later, he had eight catches for 124 yards and a touchdown in a rout of large-school No. 9 Patterson. Last week, Harris-Red caught two touchdowns in the second half as the Knights rallied to beat Beyer. He finished with a career-high 199 yards.
“My dad told me things happen for a reason and not to worry about any of this,” Harris-Red said. “When game time arrives, just play and be an athlete. Just play your game.”
This story is about two “Jairols” united as one.
While the younger Jairol runs through secondaries, leaving defenders grasping at his No. 1 jersey, Dad bounces, claps and dances in the stands. He also wears a No. 1 jersey.
In the winter, health willing, Red will be even closer to the action. Two Jairols united as one.
“I always appreciate when he comes to my games,” Harris-Red said. “It’s the little things when I’m with him. I just appreciate it more because he’s there.”