Harry Olsen’s memory lives on
By Steve Lee
LAND O’ LAKES — Harry Olsen’s legacy played out at the Land O’ Lakes Little League ballfields with an Oct. 24 vigil.
The longtime baseball coach for teams Land O’ Lakes and Wesley Chapel died a day earlier of an apparent heart attack. He was 42.
“Harry always kept the focus on the kids,” said Tom FitzSimons, who along with Olsen was among a dozen men and women who formed the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association 10 years ago. “He was always about your kids, not just his.”
Olsen was beloved by his family — wife Sara, 15-year-old son Harry IV, and daughters Grace, 13, and Anna, 11 — as well as countless coaches, ballplayers and neighbors.
Those groups were among several hundred people to show up for that Oct. 24 vigil. Many were from neighboring Little Leagues, as well as Land O’ Lakes, Wesley Chapel and Wiregrass Ranch high schools.
All, however, were united in paying homage to Olsen.
Dennis Plaisted, president of the Land O’ Lakes Little League, addressed a crowd in front of the field for Senior and Junior divisions. Plaisted said that field will be named for Olsen, who managed the Land O’ Lakes Junior All-Stars to District 25 championships in 2007 and 2008.
“We had a good time,” said Fred Nipper, an assistant coach on those all-star teams. “Harry was a family man. He loved the kids and he gave all his time.”
Joe Ganci, who also was an assistant coach on those all-star squads, spoke fondly of his late friend.
“Harry was about core values: respect, love, trust, honor,” Ganci said. “That’s what he was all about. The man was always about doing what’s right.”
Olsen and Ganci often gave one another a hug and a kiss before games, whether they were coaching together or for opposing teams during their time as Little League coaches. Ganci laughed at recalling the looks and inquiries about those gestures from young ballplayers.
Once the games began, however, Ganci said it was a different story when they coached against one another.
“As soon as that first pitch came we tried to beat the hell out of each other,” Ganci said.
Jim Kranendonk, who lost his son Thomas, a former Little League all-star, to a tragic accident in 2007, was among the speakers at the vigil. He told people to be there for the family like Harry was there for their kids.
“Rejoice in the fact that Harry’s in a safe place,” Krandendonk said after reading from scriptures.
The ballfield is not the only thing named in Olsen’s honor. A golf tournament, initially slated to benefit the Wiregrass Ranch High baseball team, has been renamed the Harry Olsen Memorial Golf Tournament to benefit the family. That event is Nov. 14 at Tampa Bay Golf and Country Club.