Secret messages under gym floor honor educator

Posted at 7:50 AM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 09:30:12-04

SHOREWOOD -- Shorewood High School just installed a new gym floor, which normally would be a pretty routine event, but there is something underneath the floor that makes it very special.

"Lucia's message is about right here," said Erin Harris, pointing to the gym floor.

Erin Harris and her kids were invited to write notes before the final paint went on the head of the greyhound. The messages honor a husband and father they lost. Mark Harris was an assistant principal at the high school and a principal at the intermediate school. He died unexpectedly from complications of bronchial asthma 18 months ago. Since then, the community has rallied around the family.

"It's blown me away we've been so blessed by so much love and support," Erin said.

The idea for the secret messages first came from the installation company, Schmidt Flooring. Shorewood's principal, a close friend of Mark's, was notified next.

"It was a great idea. I mean, how can you say no to something like that?" said Shorewood High School Principal Tim Kenney.

So last week Erin brought the kids to write notes to their dad.

"Cooper drew his dad's name and decorated it with the number 33, Lucia was remembering a memory of being at the Mall of America and she drew a picture of Mark and herself going down the log ride. Ceecee drew a picture of her daddy and asked me to draw a banner with 33," Erin said.

Thirty-three was Mark's number when he played at Marquette University. It's a number Erin now sees a lot.

"We pulled up to the school that day and was just about to turn the key off in the ignition and my daughter said, 'Oh my god, look' and she's pointing at the dashboard and it's 3:33 and 33 degrees. It happens all the time so we just kind of smiled and moved on knowing that Mark was with us in that moment," she said.

Shorewood hosted its second annual Hoops for Harris 3-on-3 tournament less than a week later. Cooper became one of the first to test out the gym floor honoring his father. Mark would have been thrilled with the event.

"I called him the magical thread because he just loved bringing people together," Erin said.

There is a more visible tribute to Mark on top of the arena floor. An X with his initials and the number 33 marks the spot where players will check into games in front of the scorer's table for years to come. Two ways to honor a man who touched so many.

"I know I just had the thought that every time I'm in this gym and I look out at the greyhound on the floor it will be a reminder to me of what the family had put under here," Kenney said.

Erin's message to Mark is also there.

"I used a line from a poem. 'I carry your heart with me, I carry it in my heart,'" she said. "I just believe that Mark is with me in my heart and he always will be."

Mark had signed to be an organ donor for transplants and research. His gift helped save the lives of four people.

The Mark Harris Fellowship program helps mentor and guide students into college and beyond. Their next fundraiser is April 30. For more information, click here.