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Article Published January 3, 2019
Harris Named Head Coach for Cross Country and Track at North Branford
PJ Foti, Sports Writer

North Branford High School is introducing a fresh face to take the helm of its cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track programs. The new head coach for each of these teams is Chelsea Harris, a former high school and collegiate standout who recently served as an assistant track coach at East Haven.

Chelsea graduated from Hamden in 2010 and then ran track at the Division I level for La Salle University in Philadelphia. After graduating from La Salle, she became the head coach of cross country at Career High School in New Haven and went on to join the track program’s coaching staff in East Haven.

As a runner, Chelsea’s specialty was competing in the middle-distance events. Chelsea took first place for Hamden in the 600-meter run at the Class LL Indoor Track State Championship in 2010, followed by a fifth-place performance at the State Open. While Chelsea has always enjoyed running, she likes being a coach even more.

“I grew up a soccer player and only did track to stay in shape for soccer, but I ended up being kind of good at it, and fell in love with it over time,” Chelsea says. “Giving my experience, tips, and tricks about running is what I really enjoy about coaching.”

Chelsea ran both cross country and track at La Salle, before graduating in 2014. The following year, she took the reins as head coach of the cross country program at Career. Chelsea became an assistant coach for East Haven’s outdoor track team in the spring of 2016, then joined the indoor squad the following winter. Chelsea says she learned a lot from coaches Rusty Dunne and Jim Vicario at East Haven. Now, she’s ready to apply those lessons in North Branford.

“The most important thing is probably patience and how athletes react to different things. It’s nice to be on the outside looking in,” says Chelsea, who lives in Hamden and is a teacher in the New Haven school system. “I apply it to things I’ve gone through as an athlete, because it wasn’t that long ago that I was still competing in college. I try to be the coach I always wanted.”

Coach Dunne was impressed with Chelsea’s credentials when she came to East Haven and enjoyed working with her these past few years. Dunne says it’s nearly impossible to find a coach that has Chelsea’s pedigree these days.

“She had all the credentials. She was a national-level runner at Hamden High School, and she was a Division I competitor in college. She was able to help our kids tremendously and was a great addition to our staff. We’re very disappointed that she’s leaving, but I’m very happy for her. It’s going to create a huge void,” says Coach Dunne. “It’s a great thing for North Branford. Our loss is North Branford’s gain. It’s a great thing for her there, because she’ll be the cross country, indoor, and outdoor coach. It doesn’t get any better than that, because she’ll be with her kids year-around.”

While Chelsea is well-versed in what it takes to be a successful mid-distance runner, she had to learn more about the sprints and jumps during her tenure at East Haven. As she begins her new endeavor in North Branford, Chelsea feels fortunate to bring aboard former Yellowjackets’ track athlete Omar Brown to lend a hand in those events as an assistant coach.

“I was looking for somebody that knew the events I wasn’t as confident in as far as coaching and...I met him randomly out and about,” says Chelsea of Brown. “I learned a lot during my time with East Haven through Coach Dunne. He was more of a sprint, jumps, and hurdles coach, so I definitely learned a lot about those events through my time there.”

Chelsea made her debut in North Branford when she stepped in to coach the cross country team at the end of the fall season. Now that she’s here, Chelsea is looking to stick around for the long haul and make a lasting impact by helping the T-Birds’ athletes realize their potential.

“Cross country was just trying to finish the season and have some fun. I didn’t want to shake anything up quickly. But long term, I want my athletes to set their goals and try to reach them by the end of the season, whether it’s to break a previous [personal record] or just run a longer distance than they could in the past,” Chelsea says. “It’s not much of a big team goal, but I want to work on individual success and try to get them as far as they can. I competed in college, so I think I can make a positive change and help those that want to compete on the college level possibly get there.”