Darryl "Deke" Harris

Editor’s note: For this year’s Black History Month, Greater Union Life Center is sponsoring banners along Woodland Boulevard in DeLand honoring 16 individuals who have made a positive impact on the city of DeLand, and Volusia County.

Darryl “Deke” Harris, also known as Coach D, was a youth advocate and coach in the DeLand area for more than 30 years. Founder and head coach of the DeLand Lightning Boltz Track Club, Harris was an influential mentor for hundreds of children until his death in September 2022.

“He was awesome. He loved people — he loved kids. He was a hard worker. I mean, his coaching was something supplemental for him. He did it just as a volunteer thing,” his wife, Denisha Harris, told The Beacon. “He worked all day, and then he coached in the afternoon, and then on the weekends, too, so it took up a lot of his time, but it was what he loved to do.”

Being honored with a Black History Month banner in Downtown DeLand was something Harris would have never expected, his wife and fellow coaches said.

LEGACY — Kay and Dwayne Brewster, two coaches with the DeLand Lightning Boltz Track Club. Darryl “Deke” Harris’ legacy of training youth to be better athletes lives on with the continuation of the track club he founded.

“You would never know, if you just met him, all the things he did for everyone. He never did anything for kudos, he never talked about it. He just did it because that’s who he is,” fellow coach Kay Brewster said. “Deke was a humble man. One of those people who is powerful without saying a word … He demanded respect. And he gave you that respect back.”

Harris founded the Lightning Boltz Track Club in 2012 because of a love for track and field — he previously coached (and helped start the programs) with the Greater DeLand Youth Football League and DeLand Police Athletic League’s football and track programs.

“He loved track and field. He wanted to see everyone improve. He loved being around kids,” Brewster said. “At his celebration of life ceremony, something one of the parents said always stuck with me: Coach Deke stayed until the very end. No matter what, if the event got done at 8 o’clock at night, he’d still be there, to make sure every last person was where they needed to be.”

At first the club was small, Denisha Harris said.

“We started out with about eight to 10 runners, and probably one of them was our daughter,” she said. “And now this current season, we have about 40 runners.”

The club sends more than a half-dozen runners to the AAU National Championships every year — last year 12 kids competed, and several ranked in the top spots in their categories.

JOB WELL DONE — Athletes Darious Gardner, left, and Saleigh Simpson of the thennamed DeLand PAL Lightning Bolt Track Team pose with medals they won in 2016. The two young athletes traveled to the University of Florida to participate in the Jimmy Carnes Indoor Track & Field Meet. At the meet, Gardner placed in first and set a record with his first-place time in the 55-meter dash, and Simpson placed in second in the long jump competition. Gardner and Simpson were just two of coach Deke Harris’ students.

Harris’ impact is hard to estimate, his wife and fellow coaches said.

“He influenced hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children. Between football and track, just hundreds of kids, you know, I couldn’t even count how many,” Denisha Harris said.

“Not just kids and coaches and parents, but people 35 years old,” Brewster said. “He inspired generations, he touched the lives of generations. And to see them come back and give back to that same community … It speaks volumes about a person that they make such a positive impact that the people you influenced then go out and decide to give back to the community.”

Harris’ spirit lives on the field and off.

“Talking in the past tense is weird,” Brewster said on a recent sunny day at DeLand High School, taking a quick break from practice to speak to The Beacon. “Because he’s all up in here. He’s everywhere.”

Although he would have never asked for the recognition, it means a lot, his wife said.

“I laughed, and I said he probably was saying, ‘Oh my God, my wife let them put me up here.’ He deserves it, though,” Denisha Harris said. “It’s a great feeling because he’s done a lot in the community; he gave back a lot.”

For more information about the DeLand Lightning Boltz, visit www.delandlightningbolts.com.


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