As freshmen, it would’ve been hard to come across a pair of athletes more determined to leave a lasting mark than West’s Heath Harris and Whitney’s Robin Wimberly.
Three years later, both multisport athletes have a Super Centex Athlete of the Year honor to add to already overcrowded mantels.
In their respective main sports — Harris in baseball and Wimberly in volleyball — both were called up to varsity almost the second they stepped on their high school campuses.
Their impact in those arenas over four years never faded, but few could’ve predicted the overarching impact both would have on their respective athletic programs across the board.
Harris is the first boys’ Athlete of the Year from West, and Wimberly is Whitney’s first winner in the 25-year history of the award.
“Heath is just a really good person,” West baseball coach Cory Beckham said. “His personality is just one that everybody likes him. He’s like the friendly guy on the team. He’s on everybody’s side.”
Harris’ ability to display calm in the storm in baseball and football and Wimberly’s far-reaching talents in five sports only added to their legacies.
“I’m a believer in playing all the sports, especially in a smaller school,” Whitney volleyball coach Cheryl Gilchrist said. “It just shows her true abilities, being able to go from one sport to the next. It shows what kind of athlete she is that she can excel in all of them.”
In the Harris bloodlines
In some respects, Heath Harris was merely living up to the family legacy when he was called up to the varsity baseball team as a freshman.
His two older brothers, Jed and Jared, were both two-sport stars at West and made a mark so deep that Harris’ last name was well known throughout the community before he even started high school.
In contrast to the family backyard battles as kids, Heath might have finally one-upped his brothers.
“I’ve always been a real big fan of sports,” the younger brother said. “I just love competing. Baseball really was always my favorite sport, and then football kicked up in high school.”
That Harris made his mark on the diamond was no surprise. As an imposing pitcher, the McLennan Community College commit was 29-8 over four years with a 2.12 ERA and 257 strikeouts. Along with an incredibly stacked senior class, he piloted West to a 95-39 record over the last four years and a few deep regional runs.
But in football? He might’ve been even better.
“Our team had the mentality, ‘Well, we’ve got Heath,’ ” said Beckham, who doubled as Harris’ wide receivers coach for four years. “Any time there was a third-down play or we really needed something, we’d go to him.”
Harris’ senior season got off to a rocket-boosted start when he slipped on the pads and suited up as West’s dynamic pass-catcher extraordinaire. A breakout junior season cast Harris as West’s most indispensable threat entering his final year at West, and the trust the coaching staff placed in him bore that out.
Not only was Harris the team’s most potent receiver, he also lined up in the backfield, at safety and handled kicking duties.
“It was pretty exhausting playing that much,” Harris said. “But I liked it. I liked being in the action a lot.”
Despite a 3-8 season that ended with a loss in the bi-district round, Harris was always buzzing around the action. In an offense basically tailored to get him the ball, he led the area with 92 catches, 1,436 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns and was a lock as a Super Centex first-teamer.
“In football, what was really good about him was he was a perfect example to show to the other guys,” Beckham said. “Our other kids that were younger than him really got to watch him and learn from him.”
The day after football season ended, Harris’ attention immediately snapped to baseball. In this, Harris was truly in his element.
He served as a starting pitcher for most of his career, but a persistent elbow problem limited his durability and forced him into the closer role for the majority of his senior season.
In turn, Beckham handed the starting duties to Kolbey Carpenter and Garrett Mattlage to form one of the strongest and most unique collections of pitching talent in the state. While it’s often seen this way in the majors, Harris was clear on the issue: This was no demotion.
“With Kolbey starting and Garrett starting, it would always work out good with me closing whatever game we needed to,” Harris said. “I kind of liked it.”
While West’s year ended disappointingly in the area round, Harris’ individual season was one to remember. He wasn’t just 6-0 as a rock out of the bullpen. The third baseman also batted .500, knocked in 37 RBIs and made first-team all-state to see off his high school career.
“I wish we could’ve done better, but baseball is baseball,” Harris said. “You can’t control what happens all the time.”
Wimberly’s hectic schedule
Robin Wimberly set an unusually fast pace during her freshman year at Whitney, one she originally had no plans of keeping up.
After running cross country and starring on the volleyball team, Wimberly went straight to basketball, track and then tennis. It was a schedule that took her from August to May with few respites in between.
Most couldn’t understand what kept her going. Once she got into it, Wimberly couldn’t understand anything else.
“I enjoy playing every sport that I do,” Wimberly said. “It takes up a lot of my time, but it’s totally worth it because there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.
“I’m glad I ran cross country, even though it was really hard and I had to push myself just to get through it. I’m glad I played basketball, because just the thrill of playing with the team. Track of course, I like throwing the disc. As for tennis, it was kind of one of those things where my mom was coaching the sport so of course I’m going to play, but I also really, really loved it.”
Wimberly’s pace — she played on varsity in every sport all four years — never slowed, even as she reached her senior year. While a few in her inner circle suggested she pare down her activities to focus on her best ones, Wimberly couldn’t understand the logic. Senior year or not, nothing would change.
“People would be like, ‘How can you be doing cross country your senior year, it’s your slack-off year,’ ” she said. “I’m like, ‘Well, I need to do it.’ I need to do it for myself, push myself and say, ‘I did that.’ ”
It was a move that paid off, but only because of her stringent attention to training.
During the summers, Wimberly routinely showed up for a rigorous training course run by Whitney athletic director Kenneth Gilchrist. On many days, Wimberly was the only girl in a course designed mostly for football players.
It consisted of 45 minutes of weight training, 45 minutes of abdominal work and 45 minutes of cardio.
“Very tough,” Wimberly said.
It set the stage for a memorable senior year. The Brookhaven College volleyball commit stormed through the volleyball season, pushing Whitney to a district title and into the regional finals. It was the deepest run in school history, and Wimberly came away not only with first-team Super Centex and district MVP honors but an all-state nod as well.
“It’s almost indescribable,” Wimberly said. “There’s never going to be a team like that again. Never going to be as close of a bond as we had with each other. It’s like we were all best friends on the court. Nothing else mattered.”
Wimberly went on to earn second-team Super Centex honors on Whitney’s playoff basketball team and flung the discus well enough during track season to earn a place at regionals.
Wimberly’s final act — a run to the 2A girls’ doubles tennis state final — put a neat bow on a long career.
As a four-year regional qualifier, Wimberly and teammate Andrea Rojas weren’t surprised to reach that stage. But a brief glimpse at the bracket revealed the one school Wimberly didn’t want to see: Brock.
When Whitney downed Brock in the third round to gain entry to state, Wimberly was over the moon.
“When we beat Brock, it just blew my mind,” she said. “I didn’t know what to think.”
That paved the way for a run to state, where Wimberly and Rojas dropped teams from Buna and San Saba before losing to a Franklin squad in the finals.
“I had to mentally prepare myself,” Wimberly said. “I had a lot of help from my mom and my dad, telling me to always push myself and to never be satisfied, always want more. Coming in, feeling like I was the small one in the group, I wanted to prove to myself and to everyone else that I could do this.”