For Jamir Barnes and T.J. Harris, it’s almost like a line from an old movie: “Of all the teams in all the state, who should be waiting for us in the state final but Archbishop Wood?”
Barnes and Harris are star seniors for the Cheltenham High football team, which has made program history on a weekly basis in last few weeks of a dream season.
The Panthers (14-1) have set the school record for wins. They’ve set another mark with a 12-game winning streak. They’ve won the program’s first District 1 title and they have set their sights on the school’s first state championship in football.
But for Barnes, Harris and coach Ryan Nase, there’s a twist at the end of this storybook tale.
For both seniors and their coach, playing in the PIAA Class 5A state final Friday night at Hershey Park Stadium is special enough. But playing for all those marbles against Archbishop Wood, that’s something else again.
“It’s crazy,” said Barnes, a running back and Monmouth University recruit.
Barnes and Harris, a wide receiver and defensive back, started their careers at Archbishop Wood. They were members of the Vikings’ freshman squad in 2016 and teammates with current Wood seniors such as Ryan DiVergilis, Charley Mininger, Brian Kelly, and Tom Pomponi, among others.
“It should be fun,” Harris said. “We played with them freshman year and we all had a bond and now we’re playing against them for the state championship.”
Mininger, the Vikings’ standout two-way lineman, said he was “really tight” with Harris during their freshman year and remains friendly with the Cheltenham athlete.
The connections between the programs run deep. Nase’s wife, Katie, is an Archbishop Wood graduate who was a learning specialist at her alma mater before taking the last couple of years off to care for the couple’s three young children.
“She just tells me we’re going to lose,” Ryan Nase said with a smile and shrug.
Katie Nase’s sister graduated from Wood with current Vikings head coach Kyle Adkins. Ryan Nase is lifelong friends with Wood girls’ basketball coach Mike McDonald.
“We played sports together since we were 5,” Ryan said of McDonald.
When Barnes and Harris were freshmen at Wood, the Vikings won the state title. When the two athletes transferred to Cheltenham as sophomores, the Vikings won another state crown.
Meanwhile, the Panthers were 2-8 in Nase’s first season in 2017.
“That was Coach Nase’s first year so we knew had to build,” Harris said. “We started at the bottom. That 2-8 turned into what we are now. That made us what we are.”
Barnes said he was confident things would turn around for Cheltenham. But he also noticed Wood’s continued success.
“I was like, ‘That could have been me,’” Barnes said. “I could have been on that state championship team [as a sophomore].
“But I always knew that one year had to be that year that we went far. It’s crazy that it’s this year, my senior year.”
Barnes and Harris have been keys to Cheltenham’s revival, from 2-8 in 2017 to 8-4 last season to the brink of the state championship in 2019.
Barnes has run for 1,236 yards and 13 touchdowns. Harris has 39 catches for 714 yards and 10 touchdowns and also has made nine interceptions.
They’ve both come a long way from their days as members of the Wood freshman team. Back then, they never could have imagined leading Cheltenham to the state final -- and finding some of their old classmates waiting for them across the field.
“It’s kind of cool to see us all grow up and now we’re finally going to play against them,” Barnes said. “We’ve been texting, going back and forth on social media, both sides, and we’re all very excited about it. We never thought it would happen.”