Volunteer baseball coach Jamal Harrison’s contract was not renewed for the 2021-22 school year, despite his career as a professional baseball player and decades as a Bay Area coach, leaving baseball players and their families confused.
Harrison, who was not paid for his work with the team, did not receive advance warning or any explanation from the administrators about why his contract was not renewed.
Neither did the varsity baseball team, whose members said they were surprised and disappointed to learn Harrison would not be returning as a coach.
“We don’t know why the school didn’t have him back,” varsity catcher Dominic De Feo said. “All the vice principal would tell us is that they didn’t renew his contract.”
Assistant Principal LaDonna Butler said she could not comment on personnel matters.
“We decided to go in a different direction and not renew his yearly contract,” she said. “Our mindset is to optimize the students’ athletic experience. The health and wellness of our students is our biggest priority, but we would be happy to bring someone else on if their values align with ours.”
According to a change.org petition to reinstate him, Harrison is known around the Bay Area not only for his valuable batting advice and positive spirit — but also how he has changed the lives of many through his mentorship, guidance and readiness to lend an ear and mental health advice. The petition is now closed and was signed by 241 people.
“Jamal always was really positive with us; he had a much bigger impact than some people might think,” senior baseball player Dominic De Feo said. “He was more than just helping us get better at hitting. He was always there for us whenever we needed something outside baseball — his impact was felt a lot more than just on the field.”
Even though senior Aidan Do is not on the baseball team this year, he said Harrison was a mentor for him and nurtured team culture even during the offseason.
“Since as long as I’ve known Jamal, he’s been a staple in Palo Alto baseball and a significant part of the overall culture,” Do said. “He was vital to the team’s success because he created a culture of a tight-knit team and reinforced our chemistry. Jamal is one of the leading reasons why the team has produced such high-level players. Through his own 1-on-1 coaching, he has taught everyone to work together towards a common goal.”
Athletic Director Nelson Gifford and Principal Brent Kline declined to be interviewed for this story.
In the month after Harrison was let go, Saint Ignatius, one of Paly’s biggest sports rivals, hired him.
Harrison said he did not want to be interviewed for this story but said in a text, “I have moved on and was offered another job. To me, it’s now water under the bridge.”
Regardless, De Feo said Harrison won’t be quickly forgotten.
“I initially met Jamal through the Palo Alto Little League. Our team had group hitting sessions with him,” De Feo said. “After that, I kept spending time hitting with him and he ended up becoming really close to our family and one of the most important people in my life.”