Retired, not done: Harper leaves a lasting legacy in Chambers County

Published 4:12 pm Friday, April 26, 2024

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After 25 years at Chambers County, Valley coach Marshon Harper announced his retirement on Wednesday in a post on social media. 

Harper will go down as one of the most influential coaches in the history of Valley High School. Harper became Valley’s first African American head football coach in 2012 before stepping down in 2015 and serving as the defensive coordinator throughout the rest of his tenure. 

Harper did his best work on the basketball court. In 2023, Harper led the Rams to a 33-0 season and the 5A state championship. Harper then led the Rams to the Final Four in 2024.

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Harper led recruiting at Valley and oversaw four football players signing to play football at the next level just in the current graduating class. Harper’s son, Jay Harper, is set to play football at Wisconsin next season.

The decision to retire took time to come to terms with, but Harper felt like it was time. Being able to travel and watch Jay play played a factor, and ultimately Harper was just ready to close the chapter on his coaching career in Chambers County. 

“I just thought it was time to retire. It’s been 25 years, been doing this for a long time,” Harper said. “Got a chance to coach my son and his friends, and my son graduated. I get a chance to go see him play.”

“That plays a big role in it,” Harper added. “Get a chance to see my son play. I also have a daughter that’s coming up and getting into sports. She made the cheerleading squad at Callaway Middle School. I get a chance to go see her perform and enjoy life a little bit.” 

Harper graduated from Valley in 1992 before continuing his football career as a safety at the University of West Alabama. After graduating, Harper came back to Chambers County, took his first job at Valley High School and remained there throughout his 25-year tenure. 

Harper taught Physical Education throughout his tenure and started as a football coach and freshman basketball coach. Harper spent nearly three decades working in Chambers County, but the past two years of his career have been some of his most successful. 

Harper set new standards for Valley with a championship in 5A last season, the team was also the first undefeated champion in the history of 5A basketball in Alabama. 

“It was an unbelievable journey,” Harper said about his last two years in Valley. “I talked to some people and they said that when they watched us play it was like a movie. The kids just performed and worked hard. They promised this to me when they were in the third grade. They said, ‘Coach we’re going to win you a state title’, and it came true. That’s what you usually do it for. You want to win a state title in your career, and I had a chance to do that.” 

Harper’s legacy at Valley High School is impossible to dispute. Harper goes down as one of the best coaches in the history of his alma mater. 

Harper has the wins, losses and accolades to stack his resume up against any coach in the state, but his legacy is more than that. Harper’s legacy is with all the kids and communities he impacted along the way. 

“I’m just proud of seeing kids come back and giving phone calls and texting me… about what an unbelievable job I did with them and them being successful,” Harper said. “Just telling me how much they appreciate me pouring into them when they were in high school or elementary school. That’s what I’m most proud of.” 

“I just hope they remember me being somebody they could always count on and lean on,” Harper added. 

The next steps for Harper are undecided as of right now, but he knows he will get to enjoy some family time soon. Jay reports to Wisconsin in June, and Harper and the family will take that trip with him and see him off to college. 

The Harper family is as tight-knit as any family in the area. Marshon’s wife, Jemeka Harper, has been there through every step of the process. Jemeka has run the social media for the football and basketball teams, and she is always present at Valley’s athletic events while also teaching at Callaway. 

Marshon’s oldest son, Tez Harper, followed in his footsteps and is coaching at a school in Columbus while Marshon’s daughter is in the early stages of her athletic career at Callaway. 

“Hat’s off to my wife,” Harper said. “You’ve got to have a strong person behind you, and she’s been with me for these 25 years… It’s been a good journey. We try to attend everything together and support all of our kids.” 

While the chapter of his coaching career in Chambers County is over, his coaching career is likely far from over. Harper is retired in the state of Alabama, but he can still take jobs in other states. 

Harper is currently weighing his options, but he could be back with a whistle around his neck as soon as next season. 

“I don’t think the door is closed. I just think I’m closing a chapter in Alabama,” Harper said. “I’m just trying to venture out, and I might find something in Georgia.” 

“Something I could do next year. I don’t think I’m going to take a year off. I’m just trying to weigh my options now,” Harper added.