Rebuilding Highland Park a labor of love for “program guy” Harrison

HIghland Park has won 23 state titles, second most in the state of New Jersey, and six in the playoff era, but none since 1990, as shown on a banner that hangs in the gym. (Submitted photo)

When the head coach of your football team is an alum, there’s a special connection to the program, the student-athletes, the fans, the parents, and the whole town. Even if Highland Park is struggling to regain its former glory.

The Owls have won more New Jersey state championships – 23 – than all but one other school: Montclair, which has won 26.

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But of late, it has been real hard times. Due to low numbers, they could only manage five games in 2018. They didn’t field a team at all in 2020. Highland Park has the longest active losing streak in the state at 33 games, ten ahead of JP Stevens, which has lost 23. But with some seasons with fewer games, it’s been way longer since the Owls won a game: Thanksgiving, 2016, against Metuchen.

This year, as many schools, that Turkey Day rivalry is at the beginning of the season. And the two will square off next Saturday (August 27, 1 pm) in the 2022 season opener on Central Jersey Sports Radio.

This may be the Owls’ best chance yet. They come into the season with 34 players, their best numbers in years. Head coach Shawn Harrison has been working hard to boost the numbers in and outside the program. With no feeder league like Pop Warner, Harrison has instituted flag football for younger kids in town, at least to help them grasp the concepts of football and its plays, even if they can’t tackle.

Central Jersey Sports Radio’s Mike Pavlichko talked with Harrison as preseason camp opened up in early Augsut. Click below to listen:

This Sunday, be sure to check out for a sit-down interview with Joe Policastro, the legendary former Highland head coach, who remains an assistant with the team he played for in the late 1950s. He’s been in the program for over 60 years.

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