Beloved tennis coach Harvey “Bubba” James leaves a lasting impact on Olympia High School.
How do you measure someone’s life?
Is it in the years he lived, or in the lives he impacted?
If you were to ask anyone in the Olympia community, they would say that to describe the life of one Harvey “Bubba” James, it would have to be measured in the impact not only on the athletes he coached as the boys and girls tennis head coach but also on the school community as a whole.
Although he had spent the last eight years as Olympia’s tennis coach, James also coached football, baseball and softball for many schools in the Orlando area during the more than 30 years he lived in Orange County.
James died Dec. 31, 2021, at age 65. His death came as a shock not only to the school and his athletes but also to the greater West Orange community.
“Absolutely stunning news,” Olympia Athletic Director Kevin McElveen said of James’ death. “I had talked to him just two days before. We were talking about the upcoming season, and he was calling me and asking me Sunday before church … if I could look at the GPAs of two of the girls (who) were wanting to play tennis this year. He wanted to make sure that they were on track and that everything was good with them. That’s typical Bubba; the fact that we’re here on Dec. 29, and he’s worried about the well-being of kids.”
James’ sister, Carol Haderer, who is now interim head coach for Olympia, received calls from people asking if it was just a bad rumor. She had to break the unfortunate news.
“I said, ‘Yeah, it’s not a rumor,’” Haderer said.
Because his family is up in North Carolina, James stayed with Haderer at her house during the tennis season. With only a 22-month difference between the two of them, they were best friends in almost every way. Haderer recalled all the times they had spent talking about strategy and enjoying each other’s company.
As they coached at Olympia together, Haderer promised James that as long as he was at Olympia, she would be there as well. Although she did not expect it, when McElveen asked if she wanted to take on the role as head coach for now, she did not hesitate to accept to carry on his legacy.
“I said that when you leave, I leave,” Haderer said. “And I just can’t do that right now.”
The man, affectionately known as Bubba, exemplified every trait one would want in a coach. He was able to show his athletes how to be good tennis players on the court, but he also went out of his way to provide for them in other ways. That also extended to his days as a football coach in the Orlando area and also Miami, where he was born and raised.
Tennis always was a big part of his early years. His mother played tennis at the University of Miami, and his godmother was former Wimbledon champion Doris Hart, who played doubles with their mother prior to turning professional. She was simply “Aunt Doris” to both him and Haderer. Although Hart won the Wimbledon tournament in 1951, five years before James was born, he always referred to it as one of his earliest memories.
The way he coached was so unique to him that it simply became known as “The Bubba Way.”
“There are some coaches who coach for the money, and there are some coaches who coach from their heart and for the love of sports,” Haderer said. “(He wanted) to give the opportunity to as many kids as he can to play a sport, be involved in athletics, represent their school and be part of a team — to give kids a chance to play sports.”
James always carried a pen or pencil in his sock at all times. He carried one on him, because, as he told Haderer one time, “You never know when you need to change the lineup.”
It was such a part of his routine that when he was placed in the casket, a pencil was placed in one of his socks.
One of McElveen’s favorite stories involving James was when he was an assistant football coach for Olympia and coached James’ son, Matt, who was a kicker for the Titans. Matt had gotten into a funk and needed some help to come out of it.
“He didn’t want to play football his senior year,” McElveen said. “Bubba calls me at home and says, ‘Hey, man, I need you to come over to my house, and I need you to get Matt off the computer. He’s been sucked into this video game, and it’s all he does.’ So I did. I came over and took Matt out to McDonald’s. I was able to convince him to come back out for football, and he did. Bubba always appreciated that I had done that.”
One thing that McElveen said he’d miss the most about James was watching him work a tennis match.
“Watching him go from court to court and checking on the kids, asking if they need anything,” he said. “It was amazing to watch.”
In September 2021, James was honored by the United States Tennis Association’s Florida division as its Volunteer of the Month. While he was aware of the honor, the plaque officially commemorating the accomplishment did not arrive until almost a week after his death — Jan. 6.
“There are some coaches who coach for the money, and there are some coaches who coach from their heart and for the love of sports. (He wanted) to give the opportunity to as many kids as he can to play a sport, be involved in athletics, represent their school and be part of a team — to give kids a chance to play sports.”
— Carol Hadere
With Haderer now taking over as head coach of the tennis team, the Titans plan to honor James Feb. 7 in a ceremony prior to their first home competition against Wekiva.
“I’m not going to say I’m going to fill his shoes up, because I won’t,” Haderer said. “This season is dedicated to Coach Bubba James, and it will be done ‘The Bubba Way.’”
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