Monday, September 23, 2013

Faith, inspiration define Kenneth Harvey

The center of attention on Kenneth Harvey Day (Ben Daily photo)
      (Ninth in a series)
      The school team nickname is Tigers; the colors are purple and gold. On game days, many of the shirts will say "Geaux Tigers."
      Yes, LSU gear will do at Logansport, La., High School.
      There is a generation gap at the school today regarding Kenneth Harvey; the kids now probably have no idea of who he is. But if they walk to the football stadium and see the monument to the one-time Logansport star, they'll realize he meant a lot to this community.
Tossing the first ball (Ben Daily photo)
        He wore the purple and gold in the early 1960s and for years after his accident on the football field left him paralyzed, he was a frequent spectator at Logansport football and basketball games.
        He would watch football games from behind the end zone, perhaps a symbol of the danger of playing the sport, although I don't believe that was in his thinking. He would watch basketball from a corner of the gym, waiting around to greet the players afterward.
         He's older now and it's more difficult for him to drive, especially at night, and get around, he doesn't see as well, and it's more taxing physically. He says he still goes to games "every so often."
         But he's still very much the sports fan -- "I watch a pretty good bit" on television. He's a fan of the Boston Red Sox (which I told him was "the end of this interview"; I was joking, people), the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints, and in basketball, the Kentucky Wildcats -- his dream team of old.
        The Dallas Cowboys? "They're all right, but I don't like them that much."
        The names, the histories, are too familiar: Kent Waldrep (TCU running back, 1974), Darryl Stingley (New England Patriots wide receiver, 1978), Marc Buoniconti (The Citadel linebacker, 1985), Roy Lee "Chucky" Mullins (Ole Miss defensive back, 1989), Mike Utley (Detroit Lions offensive lineman, 1991), Eric LeGrand (Rutgers defensive tackle, 2010), Devon Walker (Tulane safety, Sept. 8, 2012).
        All paralyzed with injuries suffered on the football field, all became either quadripeligic or parapalegic. Most were highly publicized cases.
         Some died soon thereafter, some were the incentive for foundations created to raise money to study spinal-cord injuries and treatments.
        A CBS News report two years ago cited estimates that 140,000 high school players suffer mild to severe spinal-cord injuries each year, and an average of 10 players annually are left paralyzed. In a study by Louisiana State Office of Public Health officials a couple of decades, Louisiana had one of the nation's highest rates for spinal-cord injuries in football.
       We remember -- with a little research -- the North Louisiana cases, most significantly Troy Monsanto, the Shreveport-Fair Park defensive back who broke his neck making a tackle in a 1980 game and then slipped into a coma and died 11 days later, and Farmerville High junior back Jaleel Gibson, who fractured a vertebrae in his neck in spring training drills this past May and died a couple of days later.
      Others Shreveport players left paralyzed: Bill Gary (Huntington offensive lineman) and Willie Burns (Southwood free safety) in the late 1970s, and most recently, 2008, Norman Taylor, a Byrd sophomore cornerback.
     Kenneth Harvey's injury happened 10 years before any of those listed above -- NFL, college or high school.
     With Kenneth, there was spinal-cord damage for sure, but the brain-stem damage was just as devastating.
     There was always a feeling among the Logansport folks that the treatment at the hospital in Shreveport wasn't as urgent or as thorough as it could have been. After Kenneth had been in a coma for a few days, the tension grew unbearable, harsh words were spoken and action threatened.
     "Maybe if they'd have had the technology that they have now, the treatments and the medicines, he might have survived it better," Coach Johnny Haynes speculates. But in 1964, these cases were rare.
     Perhaps, often, Kenneth Harvey might've asked himself or his family, why? Might've been angry or bitter. But those who were around him a lot say they've never heard experienced that.
     Kenneth chose faith as an explanation, and maintains that.
     "I was not a Christian when I was hurt," he told The Shreveport Times writer Vickie Welborn in 2009. "When I came to, they told me how low I got, that I almost died. I said then I was going to make it public that I accept Christ as my savior.
     "I thanked him for what happened. He showed me who was in charge. I am a much better person. I know where I'm going to spend eternity. If I had died that Friday the 13th, I'd gone straight to hell because I wasn't serving Jesus. He can do some wonderful things with us if we surrender our lives to him.
     "I've always said I've been blessed and when I could give him the hoor I would so. He gets the honor, not me."
     Says his old backfield coach and good friend Doug McLaren: "He's always had a great attitude and so did his family. ... His thinking is, 'This happened to me so that I would be able to do what the Lord wanted me to do.' "
      When Kenneth came out of the coma, his aunt, Gay Straus, remembers, "One of the first things he said was that he wanted to be baptized." And he was. Later, he also was submerged, another method of baptism.
Kenneth Harvey has spoken to kids and church
groups through the years (Ben Daily photo)

      You'll find Kenneth at Bethel United Methodist Church every Sunday, and he spoken several times at churches.
      In one instance, he was asked to speak at First United Methodist Church in Logansport.
      "I said, 'Noooo,' and I tried to think of every excuse," he said. "They told me they'd give me a set of World Book Encyclopedias, and I still said no."
     Then, he changed his mind because "Jesus spoke to my heart." When he told the pastor, he'd do it, the pastor said, "Well, I don't expect a very big crowd because people just don't show up much." However, when he arrived to speak, "the church was packed; they had to go get extra chairs and set them up. I was really surprised."
      He spoke on John 3:16, his favorite Bible passage.
     Another time, the church to which he had belonged when he lived in Longview, Texas, called and asked him to come back and speak at its homecoming. "I'd like to have passed out," he said of the surprise of that invitation.
     That faith, that inspiration, has carried him through a life that took a cruel turn in his youth, through a path more difficult than he or anyone who knew him back in early 1960s could have imagined.
      "Jesus Christ had something for me," he said two weeks ago, pointing to the sky. "The doctors, after I got hurt, said he'd be lucky if he lives 10 more years, [certainly] not over 20. I was 17; now I'm 66. I think He had something else in life for me."
     The inscription on the monument to him begins, "His life serves as an inspiration ..."
     How true. Kenneth Harvey always has been a winner. His is a triumph of the human spirit.


  1. From Michael Richey: Thanks also for the excellent Kenneth Harvey blog. I've enjoyed it all, although it makes me feel like such an underachiever. He should be a reminder to all of us that most of us were dealt pretty damn good cards. There's diversity like the newspaper touted in its hiring process, and then there's real diversity ... defining moments that shape how you see the world. Kenneth Harvey has lived and thrived through diversity.

  2. From Pesky Hill: Thanks again for sharing the story of Kenneth Harvey. Although I didn’t know anything about him or the accident, I do know Kent Waldrep. Kent actually worked in the TCU SID office when I first got there for about a year.

  3. From Bob Tompkins: Great piece, Nico. What an inspiration he is.

  4. From Lanelle Fletcher Ragusa: I enjoyed every word of this blog. Great story, great writing.
    From Lesa Wheless Blankenship: I second that, Lanelle.

  5. From Lona Warren: Wonderful story for a wonderful man.

  6. From Nita Perigo Chambless: Thank you for honoring such a special gentleman.

  7. From Beth Sandidge: I'll never forget that after Kenneth got home and was doing pretty well, my brother and I went over every Monday night to visit. Nicky (my brother) would visit and play with Terry and I would visit with Kenneth. It was a very special time with very special people.

  8. From Leon Barmore: Thanks for the story about Kenneth Harvey. I read them all. You told a wonderful story and I thank you.

  9. From Maxie Hays: Thanks for sharing this incredible story about a wonderful man of God. He
    is such an inspiration to everyone. You nailed it, friend. An awesome read.

  10. From Wayne Waggoner: Great story, Nico. Those memories hold a special place in my heart and it meant a lot to me.

  11. From Nancy Morgan: Enjoyed this series very much. Kenneth is a great guy.