Thursday, September 12, 2013

A hero in Logansport

         This is the start of the story I've always wanted to write. It has taken me about 40 years to reach this point.
         Kenneth Wayne Harvey long has been a hero of mine, just as he long has been a hero in the small town of Logansport, La., some 50 miles directly south and slightly west of Shreveport.
         Last week I made the trip to Logansport -- finally -- and met this special man.
         For 49 years, Kenneth has been wheelchair-bound, unable to walk, after a brain stem and spinal cord injury sustained on a football field left him in a coma for weeks and paralyzed.
         I remember it happening because we were both high school seniors in the fall of 1964, and he was a star athlete in North Louisiana. He was a popular, personable kid, a team leader, a school leader.
         He had the potential to be a college athlete. His dream was to play basketball for the Kentucky Wildcats.
         I had seen him play basketball in Shreveport in December 1963. I remember how good a player he was.
         So when he was hurt the next fall, it made an impact on me. I would not forget the story. And 44 years after my fulltime sportswriting career began, I am writing about Kenneth Harvey.
          Cannot tell you how many times over the years, I have said to someone -- Beatrice, and some of my co-workers -- that I needed to write this.
           Until about a month ago, I wasn't even sure that Kenneth was alive. I checked with another former star Logansport High School basketball player, Wayne Waggoner, whose father, Bernard, was Kenneth's basketball coach.
           Wayne, who played two years at Centenary College (1977-79) when I was the sports information director and now lives in our area (Colleyville, Texas), assured me that Kenneth was living in Logansport -- and still is a man about town.
           He lives in his own apartment, drives his own van, gets out and visits with people and, in 2009, was honored with a Kenneth Harvey Day and a monument at the high school football stadium.
           He is, no question, one of Logansport's most popular treasures.
           He is an upbeat, positive, joyful, religiously devout person. He is an example of what is possible in life, despite limitations.
           But I didn't know any of that when I began researching a month ago. I received help from Lee Hiller at The Shreveport Times with details of Kenneth's athletic career and the events and aftermath of Nov. 13, 1964; I interviewed people with Logansport ties, and began planning my trip.
            It was always my belief that Kenneth's injury had received little publicity. It did not receive the amount of attention that these type injuries would over the course of the decades. But it did not go unnoticed.
              In the Logansport-Many game story in The Times the next morning -- a game Many won 21-0 -- there was a brief mention of the injury to the Logansport quarterback/safety, and his being taken from the field in Logansport to a hospital in Shreveport.
           A month later, The Times had a front-page story about Kenneth, detailing what had happened, describing how he had gone into a coma (and it was ongoing), his prognosis was uncertain, and there were fund-raising efforts in Logansport, Shreveport and Mansfield to help the family with medical expenses.
           And then, as far as I know, nothing more in the Shreveport papers ... until 2009.
           After weeks in the coma, Kenneth regained consciousness. But swelling of the brain and the compression of his spinal cord -- a dislocation rather than a break -- led to a brain-stem injury -- and paralysis.
           It was months before he returned to Logansport, to a new life. His parents cared for him, his younger brother -- who never walked -- inspired him in the long, tedious rehabiliation process, his aunt and uncle took over care some years later, and the people of Logansport supported him in every way they could.
         That is particularly true of his three high school coaches -- Johnny Haynes, Doug McLaren and the late Bernard Waggoner -- who considered him one of the best athletes they ever had and certainly the most memorable.
           Kenneth regained, through hard work and good fortune, limited function of his arms and hands. His speech was slurred but passable enough that he could -- and did -- speak publicly to church and school groups, and his mind is still sharp.
            He remained a sports fan, of course -- a constant presence at Logansport games, and in the years Wayne Waggoner played college basketball, a spectactor at his games. I saw him several times at Centenary games, and we spoke.
            But over all the years of sportswriting in Shreveport, through the 1970s and most of the 1980s, I never wrote Kenneth's story. Can't tell you why ... just never took the time. It was always there; I thought of it a hundred times, a thousand times.
           Life went on, he improved to the point that he moved for several years to Longview, Texas, to live near his aunt and uncle, and his maternal grandmother.
            Meanwhile, I moved on to Florida, then Tennessee and finally Texas. But Kenneth Harvey never left my mind. Eventually, he came back to Logansport to stay.
            I didn't know about his "day" and his monument, didn't know that in July 2009, The Times' Vickie Welborn had written a major piece on Kenneth's story and the upcoming honor. Coach Haynes sent me a copy last month. With Ms. Welborn's permission, I will use some portions of that well-done article.
             My desire to write about Kenneth never waned, and this blog provides the opportunity. But just to visit with him for a couple of hours last Thursday (Sept. 5) was gratifying.
           This is a man who is an inspiration to all who know his history -- and I am fortunate to be one of them.   
            (Next: "He is a joy to be around")

1 comment:

  1. From Jeanette Ortigo: Enjoyed this article and am looking forward to the next. Kenneth Harvey was and is an inspiration to so many of those that went to Logansport school. Those of us that he never knew, knew him and knew of his courage, strength and faith. Thank you again for this reminder of the true heroes in life.