2016-'17 Season Coverage
updated: 1/4/2014 8:22 PM

Faith, basketball, help Harrell through tragedy

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  • Laura Stoecker/  Aurora Christian's Johnathan Harrell goes up for the hoop with Joliet Catholic's Jalen Jackson Jimmy Elias attempting a block in the third quarter on Wednesday, December 4.

    Laura Stoecker/ Aurora Christian's Johnathan Harrell goes up for the hoop with Joliet Catholic's Jalen Jackson Jimmy Elias attempting a block in the third quarter on Wednesday, December 4.

  • Aurora Christian's Jonathan Harrell is all smiles last year after the Eagles won a regional title.

      Aurora Christian's Jonathan Harrell is all smiles last year after the Eagles won a regional title.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer


Anyone who spent time with former Batavia boys basketball coach Jim Roberts knew exactly how the Hall of Famer would end a conversation after one of the Bulldogs' games in the dead of winter.

"Drive safe."

Those words came to mind last week following the tragic car accident that took the life of Jarred Harrell, the 21-year-old brother of Aurora Christian senior Jonathan Harrell.

Jarred and his sister Janella were at the Plano Christmas Classic last Friday watching Jonathan Harrell and the Eagles defeat Newark to reach the tournament semifinals.

On their way home the car Janella and Jared were driving was involved in a head-on collision in Oswego.

As any of the boys and girls basketball teams in the area know, there's little time over the holidays to take a break from all the tournament games for a practice or to rest or even catch your breath -- let alone grieve for an unimaginable loss like this.

So there's Aurora Christian the very next night, almost exactly 24 hours after the accident, scheduled to play No. 1 seed Ottawa. Eagles coach Pat McNamara didn't know until shortly before tipoff what Jonathan Harrell would do.

Harrell ended up playing and playing quite well, with 15 points and 7 assists on a very emotional night. Fans from both Aurora Christian and Ottawa stood and cheered when Harrell made his first basket. Fans of other teams in the field began cheering for Aurora Christian and Harrell even while Ottawa took control.

When McNamara pulled Harrell from the game late in the fourth quarter with the outcome decided, the Eagles fans gave Harrell a long standing ovation while teammates like Grant Schweisthal gave Harrell hugs and pats on the back.

"John is being super strong right now," Eagles senior Zach Singer said. "He's still being a very good leader and captain for our team. We're comforting him as best as we can and being like brothers to him right now."

"It was nice to see," McNamara said of the crowd Saturday. "It was a very supportive crowd on both ends. It was a real difficult situation and it was nice to see."

"I've met him (Jarred) a number of times, nice young guy, going to school and his sister, they are all professionals," McNamara continued. "John is the baby. They are all very successful. Jarred was a terrific young man."

It turns out it was Harrell's mother who told Jonathan he should play in the game.

"She knows basketball is my love," Harrell said. "Coach Mac can tell you that ever since he's known me since like 7th grade, I've been in a gym shooting, 6 in the morning, after school, I always found a way to get in the gym Saturdays and Sundays at our school. My mom knew it (playing) would be a good way to be courageous and get my mind off things for a little bit and come to peace with things."

"John grew up in a gym," McNamara said. "Different people react in different ways when death is involved. Some people need some time and other people would rather do what they love to do and he loves to play basketball."

Two nights later Aurora Christian returned to Plano for the third-place game and defeated Burlington Central. Harrell had 9 points, 5 rebounds and made the all-tournament team as the Eagles outplayed their No. 12 seed by taking third at the tournament for a second straight season.

Harrell is the youngest of eight who have all gone to Aurora Christian.

"ACS is like a second home," Harrell said. "It's nice to have a great family and a God I know is all powerful. I'm just blessed with great people around me and my God Jesus Christ."

While nothing can change the tragedy, the level of compassion and sympathy was moving to see -- both from the Aurora Christian community, the Eagles' opponents and total strangers at Plano.

"Obviously we're happy to be playing the championship game but it's a sad night when one of the players in the game lost his brother in an automobile accident last night," said Ottawa coach Mark Cooper, who embraced Harrell in the handshake line following their game Saturday. "The game was played but it was so minor to what had happened. We're fortunate we have a team full of really good kids and both teams have a lot of really good kids and I thought both teams and the crowd handled the difficult situation in a proper manner. It's just a really sad event."

The compassion of others certainly wasn't lost on Harrell who gratefully displayed signed cards from both the Ottawa and Newark teams following Monday's win.

Harrell, who said his sister is recovering well with a concussion and broken fibula and is expected to make a full recovery, also was an inspiration. As outgoing and well-liked of a player as there is in the area, Harrell was incredibly poised and well-spoken talking about his loss.

"It's a blessing to know they know basketball is just a sport, there's bigger things in life," Harrell said of the Ottawa and Newark gestures. "It's a blessing to have people who don't even know you and they still feel for you and they are compassionate and they are sympathetic. They may not know where you are coming from but they still feel you are hurting. They may not know how much you are hurting but they still know you are hurting and they support you. That's nice."

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