The lively sound of tapping shoes echoes through the ears of adoring fans as the Saginaw, Mich., High Steppers dance across the stage. The combination of jazz and tap drives the audience mad. The adorable faces of children dancing and singing on stage are too cute to ignore.
Finally, the whole group comes together for the finale and the High Steppers begin to sing as if they were a choir.
Among these young singers was a boy who grew up to become Denton High School’s head boys basketball coach and history teacher, coach Harold Jackson.
“Basically my whole family participated in a group called the High Steppers, because of my grandmother,” Jackson said. “I did that basically from preschool age all the way to middle school.”
Jackson was involved in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts, and also sang with his junior church choir.
“Along with playing sports as a child, I had a very busy childhood,” Jackson said. “That probably kept me away from focusing on things like [the fact that] I didn’t have money and stuff like that.”
Jackson still remembers bits and pieces of his routine. He even occasionally joins in on the Denton Fillies’ routine in Kerri Burgess’ dance class.
“I actually had the opportunity to perform in the Nutcracker for three years as an adult,” Jackson said. “I performed with the Southwest Oklahoma Dance Alliance and with some of the girls that I used to coach, so that was a real treat.”
But Jackson was not only molded by dance and song; he had a struggle with life as a child that some of us couldn’t even imagine. He lost his mother at age 7 and lived under financially challenging conditions throughout his childhood in Saginaw, Mich.
“It was difficult as a child, watching other kids do things with their mothers,” he said. “Since we were a heavily religious family, going to church on Mother’s Day, kids used to always wear roses in their lapel to represent their mother, and my rose used to always be white. So I had difficulty wearing a white rose at such an early age, because red represented that your mother was still living and white meant your mother was deceased.”
Jackson described his childhood financial situation as beyond poor.
“You want me to describe how poor we were? We were so poor that I didn’t have any Christmases,” Jackson said. “I only had three pairs of pants in high school. I wore the same pair on Thursday that I wore on Monday and the same pair on Friday that I wore on Tuesday and I wore the same pair of pants every Wednesday. My house got condemned my senior year, so I lived in a condemned house for half of my senior year.”
His Saginaw school district was divided along racial lines.
“My elementary school and middle school were basically segregated,” Jackson said. “We had neighborhood schools and everybody in my neighborhood was either African-American or Hispanic descent. I can tell you we had two non-African-American or Hispanic kids at my school, but they weren’t picked on and nobody harassed them. They kind of just fell in and were part of the crew, you know.”
He said he did not go directly to college after high school, but instead joined the Army sort of by mistake.
He said he believed he was signing up for the Selective Service, but actually signed up for the Army instead.
“It was probably the best-worst decision I made in my life,” Jackson said. “But the best thing about the Army was that it gave me an opportunity to grow up and mature, and it allowed me to get some direction in my life.”
Jackson ultimately realized the military life was not for him and he decided to go back to school.
“Since the military at that time paid 75 percent of your tuition while you were on active duty, I started going to college in the evenings while I worked in the Army during the daytime,” he said.
After the Army, he worked in fast-food and as a teacher’s aide. He also volunteered as a coach in youth sports.
“I volunteered off and on as coach for six years before I got a real job,” he said. “Most of the programs were in need of an extra coach, but they didn’t have the funds to finance a new coach, so they created new ways to compensate me, but it was fun volunteering.”
His first paid coaching job came at Ardmore (Okla.) High School.
“Coaching under Ted Younts, I learned a lot about basketball, a lot of the same drills and rules, and my philosophies are based upon his,” Jackson said.
After two years, Ardmore was highly successful and went to the state tournament both years.
“We were preseason No. 1 in the state, and that was exciting,” Jackson said. “We lost in the state semifinals, and then the next year, we went back to state and lost in the first round of the state tournament.”
When coach Younts retired, Jackson received a call from Denton High asking him if he would be interested in coming down, being an assistant, and rebuilding the basketball program.
“I started off coaching the freshman, moved up to the JV, and was the varsity assistant for two years,” Jackson said.
After four years at DHS, Jackson became the head coach and has been at the helm ever since.
Jackson said that in the four years he spent at DHS as an assistant coach, Henry Thomas mentored him and taught him that basketball is much more than winning. He still seeks the advice of Thomas weekly.
“Basketball is about building and maintaining relationships,” Jackson said. “I am very grateful for Thomas.”
After having missed the playoffs for several straight years, Jackson helped guide the team back to the playoffs in the 2004-05 season. It was his first group he coached all the way through the program.
“So, I moved up as they moved up,” he said. “And my first season, we went 20-10. The next year, we started out 11-4 and were ranked in The Dallas Morning News for the first time in a long time.”
He’s been supporting his kids not only on the court but also in the classroom. He teaches psychology at DHS and North Central Texas College. His first semester, he taught only world history, but a counselor retired halfway through the year and Jackson stepped in to help.
“On A-days, I was in the counseling office all day and then B-days I was teaching psychology classes,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to serve in the role of a counselor twice in my 12 years here because, before I became a teacher, I became a counselor in private and community organizations. My ultimate goal was to be a school psychologist; I never envisioned being neither a teacher nor a coach.”
Coach Jackson has had an influence in his psychology courses and with his basketball team, all with his words of wisdom.
“There’s a big old world out there, and there are a lot of opportunities out there,” he said. “You just have to make sure you work as hard as you can to put yourself in those opportunities. You know, you may not always get the prize, but just make sure that you give yourself an opportunity, because without the opportunity, you definitely don’t have the prize.”
His final piece of advice for students is a phrase that he learned from one of his mentors, Elder Banks.
“‘It’ll be greater later’ is one of the sayings that Elder Banks taught me,” Jackson said. “If you’re struggling in life or school, I think kids need to understand that all circumstances are just temporary. And you just have to make your mind up about what you want to be in life and don’t let anybody deter you from that. The road won’t always be easy, but every time you get knocked down just get back up, dust yourself off and keep on walking.”
DIMITRIOS AERTS is a senior at Denton High School and a participant in the Denton Record-Chronicle’s “Speak Out Loud” writing program for student journalists.