When Ridge Harris transferred from Central to Northside Middle School a month-and-a-half into his seventh-grade year, Dakota Thompson was the first person he got to know.
In the five years since, the pair have been there for each other in a big way.
Now seniors at Columbus East High School, Harris and Thompson are making noise on the basketball court. They’ve helped the Olympians get off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
“Coming from different elementary schools, we didn’t really know each other,” said Thompson, who had played with Harris on the Bartholomew County Jaguars AAU team the summer before their seventh-grade year. “We built a really good bond off the court, on the court, everything like that.”
“He’s been one of my closest friends,” Harris said. “He’s been like a brother to me since seventh grade.”
When Thompson was struggling in the classroom and acting as a self-described “class clown,” Harris made him realize it wasn’t cool. A year-and-a-half ago, when Harris needed a place to live, Thompson’s family took him in.
“I just needed to get away,” Harris said. “It was a lot less stressful at Dakota’s house than at my house. I’ve known him since sixth grade, and his family is my family, and my family is his family.”
Harris, whose parents divorced when he was young, visits his mother in Columbus every week. He occasionally sees his father, who lives in Bloomington.
“It’s fine,” Harris said. “With God, I look to Him for a lot of things.”
Thompson said having Harris live with his family has been a blessing for him, as well.
“It’s a great experience,” Thompson said. “He’s a great influence. He’s changed my life in so many different ways. He’s been through a lot of things. I’ve been through a lot of things. He’s really been my rock.
“Not too many people have the opportunity to say ‘My buddy changed my life,” he said. “I don’t look at him as a friend or a best friend. He is my brother. He’s my family. I love him to death. He got my religion with God so much stronger.”
Now, Harris and Thompson attend both the first and second services every Sunday at Columbus Church of Christ.
“We’re really involved with our church, with the community,” Thompson said. “Community service, me and Ridge are willing to jump on it. We’ll stay the whole time and help as much as possible. We realize it’s better for the community and for other people, but what we’re truly doing is bettering ourselves.”
So far this basketball season, they’ve been bettering the Olympians. After close wins over New Albany and Heritage Christian, East beat Bedford North Lawrence 65-45 on Friday.
“We were kind of rocky at first, and that was just because of defense,” Harris said. “But then our third game, we really picked up the defensive intensity, and I felt like that went really well.”
Harris, a 6-foot-3 forward, ranks second on the team with 14.7 points and 6.0 rebounds a game and leads the squad with 1.7 steals.
“Ridge contributes so many ways,” East coach Brent Chitty said. “He can guard, he’s a good rebounder. He has a lot of heart on this team. He plays hard, he’s worked hard to get to where he’s at. He’s been a fun kid to coach.
“He gets it done in the classroom,” he said. “To us, that’s first and foremost, and then he also brings that same effort to the basketball court.”
Harris wants major in criminal justice and minor in Spanish and psychology, with hopes of becoming a cop and possibly move up to be a district attorney or FBI agent. He has received interest from Wittenberg, Wabash and Central Michigan.
“That’s my biggest dream — to play in college,” Harris said.
Thompson, a 6-4 forward, averages 4.7 points off the bench.
“Dakota has kind of emerged as our vocal leader,” Chitty said. “He’s pretty much a starter off the bench. He can shoot it. He’s just a very good student of the game.”
Thompson has a track and field offer from Milligan College in Tennessee and also considering playing basketball at Manchester, Carthage (Wisc.) and Elms (Mass.). He wants to major in forensic science or sports management and marketing.
The Olympians will put their undefeated record on the line Friday against Floyd Central, then will visit crosstown rival Columbus North on Tuesday. The game with North could be a preview of a sectional showdown.
“My biggest goal is for us to grow collectively as a team and to win our sectional, win our regional and get to semi-state,” Harris said. “We haven’t been past the sectional since I’ve been here, and that’s probably my biggest goal — to win a sectional. We’re a real good team, and I think we can do it.”