A Message of Hope




photo by natalie haywood

photo by natalie haywood

What are the odds? A kid from a no-red-light- town in Southeast Arkansas being drafted into the MLB. A poor girl from the rough side of Miami becoming a WNBA superstar. Their paths crossing along the way, falling in love, and surviving the stressors of the professional athlete lifestyle to create a beautiful family. Are there statistics for something like that? On paper it may sound next to impossible, but Cedrick Harris and his wife, Marie Ferdinand-Harris, believe that where you come from is not nearly as important as where you are determined to go. The Harris family is excited to be back in the Ark-La-Tex, and with them, they are bringing a wealth of knowledge and a message of hope.

For Cedrick, growing up in the Ashdown area was about four things: family, church, school, and sports. “That’s just what we did,” he said. “Looking back, I really appreciate the foundation that my upbringing provided.” An all-star athlete in multiple sports, Cedrick had his choice of schools when he graduated from Ashdown High School. “It was a really tough decision for me. I had always dreamed of playing for Arkansas,” he said. “Ultimately, I decided to play baseball for Louisiana State University because I loved the atmosphere. I wanted to be part of the winning environment they had established at the time.” Cedrick earned many awards during his career at LSU, including All-SEC and Freshman All-American, as well as two National Championships in 1997 and 2000, but it turns out that LSU was the right decision for even more important reasons.

Marie grew up one of eight children to parents of Haitian decent.

Although they live very busy lives with their three boys, Cedrick and Marie enjoyed a vacation trip to Oakland, California, to attend a friend’s wedding this past August.

Although they live very busy lives with their three boys, Cedrick and Marie enjoyed a vacation trip to Oakland, California, to attend a friend’s wedding this past August.

“I was number five,” she said. “And actually, I was the only one of my siblings that was born in the U.S., so I was the only American citizen by birth. I’ve always thought that was for a reason.” Her family relocated to Miami, and for most of her childhood, Marie and her siblings were raised by their single mother. “I would watch my mom work two jobs, three jobs, whatever she had to do, and she never complained. She would somehow make a Christmas for us when she had nothing. I have always been inspired by her actions and knew that I wanted to make something of myself someday. My biggest goal when I was young was to be able to buy my mom a home someday.”

This past July, Cedrick and Marie, and their sons, Dontay, CJ, and Ace gathered for a family photo while in Dallas for a cousin’s wedding reception.

This past July, Cedrick and Marie, and their sons, Dontay, CJ, and Ace gathered for a family photo while in Dallas for a cousin’s wedding reception.

When she was 13, thanks to some peer pressure from friends, Marie went to a basketball tryout. “I knew nothing about basketball, but

the coach saw something in me. He could see my potential and encouraged me to keep playing.” Marie kept playing and joined the team at Miami Edison Sr. High. “In my neighborhood, if you weren’t Haitian, you were probably Cuban. We were poor, it was easy to get into trouble, there were drugs, the teen pregnancy rate was high, nobody really believed we could do anything, but at school I had teachers and mentors that always encouraged me.” While her basketball coach was a mentor in many ways, she didn’t know much about basketball. “We had a security guard on campus that would volunteer to work with us in his off time. ‘Mr. Fundamentals’ was what we called him, and he taught me what I needed to know about the basics of basketball.” Marie’s focused efforts helped her excel, and she had scouts from all over the country coming to watch her play. “Basketball became the vehicle that was going to get me to college, and I knew that once I was there, I would do whatever it took to graduate.”

Marie chose LSU for many of the same reasons that drew Cedrick there. “I didn’t feel like they were trying to sell me a dream,” she said. “I loved the family atmosphere. I had the chance to play for the amazin Sue Gunter, and then they gave me some Cajun food, and that was
it!” Marie and Cedrick crossed paths in the weight room and the dining hall.
“The baseball guys were the studs on campus then,” Marie said. “Everybody knew Cedrick, and I always loved how well-mannered and put-together he was.” Friendship was all they had time for then. They were both incredibly focused. Marie was named a Kodak All-American and inducted into the LSU Sports Hall of Fame. Her list of athletic awards is long
(and definitely worth a google search). She also kept her head in the books year-round. “I would spend my summers in Baton Rouge taking the hard classes because I was determined to graduate in four years,” she said. “My mom was never able to make the trip to watch me play ball, but she made it there to watch me walk across the stage. She always showed me how much she valued education.”

After college, the two followed separate paths. Cedrick was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks and began a career that he says shaped him into the man and the coach that he is today. “The hardest part for me was being away from family,” he said. “But I loved it. I had a great career and had the opportunity to learn from some of the best coaches out there.” When injuries forced him to retire, Cedrick became a scout for the Texas Rangers and is now a sought-after coach and mentor. “

For Marie, basketball took her further than she ever imagined. She was a first round, eighth overall draft pick by the Utah Starzz in 2001, and in her 11-year career, she has played all over the world. Marie is still the only Haitian-American to ever play in the WNBA, and you can probably guess how she spent her first paycheck as a professional basketball player. “One of the best parts about all of this for me is being able to give back and to inspire others,” Marie said. “I feel like it’s part of my rent here on Earth. I want to be a resource. Three girls from my high school went on to play at LSU after me. I want people to believe that if Marie can do it, they can do it, too.”

It was during a stint in Tennessee that Marie decided to check in on her old friend Cedrick, since he was close by in Arkansas. “I think we talked every day after that,” she said. “And he would write me letters. It was the letters that really did it.” In 2006 the couple married, welcomed their first son and have been working toward a common goal ever since – sharing what they have learned for the benefit of others.

Opposites may attract, but shared values and vision go a long way to creating a solid team. Now that they have made Arkansas their home, Cedrick Harris and Marie Ferdinand- Harris are eager to use their experiences to give back to the community. Cedrick is the Director of the Arkansas Sticks Baseball Academy, and Marie is a sought-out basketball trainer and mentor and motivational speaker. She also leads her own workshop, The Ultimate Teammate (www.ultimateteammate.com). “I really love working with teachers as well as students,” she said. “I am a product of teachers. From the janitors, to bus drivers, to coaches – everyone needs to know their role is valuable.”

Cedrick and Marie agree that the greatest reward is not necessarily “making it big,” but in applying the same work ethic that got them there to the rest of their lives. “The most important things – they’re bigger than ball.”