You won’t have a difficult time convincing Tustin Police Officer Chuck Mitchell that sometimes circumstances happen for a reason.
Mitchell will be playing – along with personnel from the Tustin and Irvine police departments – in a soccer game on May 1 at 3 p.m. at Beckman High to raise money and awareness about a disease that he had never heard of until a year ago.
Last April, Mitchell made a phone call that he had no idea would launch community spirit and honor a teenager he had never met.
“Sometimes, the only interaction people have with police is negative,” Mitchell said with a huge smile. “I wanted to have an event were the community sees police as normal people.”
Normal people with huge hearts.
Kelsey Harris was a sports nut. She loved being a fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. She trained hard and excelled at soccer, her father Frank said in a recent interview.
She grew up in Irvine and then moved to Tustin. Her father is an economist for Southern California Edison.
At Beckman High, she had worked her way into the position as the starting goalie on the soccer team.
But from the time she was 12, Kelsey suffered, off and on, from severe headaches and seizures.
What looked like epilepsy was diagnosed more precisely as Lafora Disease, a rare and nearly always fatal illness. The people who have Lafora do not usually live past the age of 25.
Kelsey was a terrific student. But when her grades started to slip, her parents knew her health was deteriorating.
Kelsey Anne Harris died last April.
“I wish I would never had to find out how great the Tustin police are,” Frank Harris said.
Last April, after 12 years as a Tustin Police officer, Chuck Mitchell finally decided to try to put together a community soccer match. He wanted the cops and citizens to get together in a fun setting to get to know each other better.
Mitchell grew up playing soccer in Florida. When he moved to California at age 20, he started playing in men’s league. He coached his two children as they grew up playing soccer.
He knew soccer could bring people together.
But he needed a place for the game.
A friend at the Tustin PD suggested Beckman High.
It just so happened that Mitchell called Beckman just as the school was dealing with the loss of one of its popular students: Kelsey Harris, the soccer goalie.
A benefit game was born.
The first game for Kelsey was held last year. Tustin and Irvine police played on the same team against seniors from Beckman. The Harris family, trying to overcome its grief, was the guests of honor. Politicians came. School officials came. Firefighters came.
Mitchell met Kelsey’s dad for the first time.
“He told me how much Kelsey loved soccer,” Mitchell said.
Many people wore bracelets to support a website called “Chelsea’s Hope,” which was started by the family of another Lafora victim.
“It was heartwarming,” Frank Harris said. “Throughout this horrendous ordeal, we received great support from the school, the fire department and the police departments.”
The game ended in a 6-6 tie. Afterward, Mitchell grabbed the microphone and said: “This game was so great, why don’t we do it again next year?”
A huge cheer went up, and commitments were made. The game raised about $600 for Lafora research.
“We need to make this an annual thing,” Mitchell said.
“Kelsey would love this game,” Frank Harris said. “She would love to see people coming together. But as soon as someone made a mistake on the soccer field, she would want to go coach them up.”
When they played the game a year ago, it didn’t have a name.
This year, the bracelets will be green (Kelsey’s favorite color).
And the game has a name. It will forever be called the Kelsey Harris Memorial Cup.