Jason Harper had character issues growing up in El Dorado Hills.
He was combative and restless. He resisted authority instead of embracing it.
Harper found leadership through his coaches at Oak Ridge High School in the 1980s, lessons he bestows today as the founder and director of Character Combine. Passionate in his words and their meaning, the animated Harper will speak today at Folsom High School in the eighth Character Combine, a sold-out one-day event designed to develop and celebrate moral qualities of athletes from youth through college.
Harper's goal is to reach more young people through national tours (charactercombine.com for more information).
"The thinking is that if there are combines for the body strength, agility and speed why not a combine for the mind?" Harper said.
Harper said his crew of speakers can provide "a toolbox of ideas" for coaches to better their programs and players. And Harper said character as a flaw or strength isn't specific to those in uniform.
Harper stands as an example. As a baseball coach in his 20s, Harper was convinced he had all the answers. He rampaged toward umpires to dispute calls and then would seethe after being ejected. He learned through humility and from the advice of coaching mentors.
"We can all get better in everything we do," Harper said.
Harper is troubled by the conduct of coaches and parents at all levels of participation. The Rutgers mess with coach Mike Rice throwing basketballs at players, kicking and shouting vulgarities was "criminal," Harper said. He called the actions that cost Rice his job a blatant "breach in character."
The North Vallejo Little League recently suspended play indefinitely after the father of one T-ball player fired shots at the father of another.
"There's a problem at all levels of play," Harper said. "That sort of thing should not happen. Out of control."
Among the speakers today: Mark Munoz (martial arts), Scott Galbraith (retired NFL player from Highlands High), Danielle Viglione (former basketball star from Del Campo and Texas), Anthony Robles (author and ex-Arizona State wrestling standout), Mike Lamb (radio personality and former USC lineman) and Kevin Bracy (award-winning motivational speaker).
Area football coaches who will share their experiences include: Mike Alberghini, Grant; Phil Grams, Capital Christian; Ed Lombardi, Rio Americano; Max Miller, Rio Americano; Casey Taylor, Del Oro, and Jason Tenner, Ponderosa.
Character Combine will honor a Coach of the Year and a Student-Athlete of the Year.