Saturday, September 21, 2013

Two old friends, one long bond

Doug Spears and Kenneth Harvey: They
were teammates and good friends
     (Seventh in a series)
     Since he came back to the Logansport, La., area in early 2006, Doug Spears says he hasn't visited with Kenneth Harvey often enough, but few people -- perhaps only Ken's aunt, Gay Straus -- go back further with him.
     And there is no bigger booster of Kenneth than his old friend.
     The affection is obvious as Spears joined us last week at Logansport High School's football stadium, just a few yards away from the Kenneth Harvey monument.
      "Hey, man, it's great to see you," Spears said, shaking the right hand of the smiling man in the wheelchair who seems just as pleased. And with that, we're off on a couple of hours of catching up and reminiscing.
      They grew up playing sports together and being pals, and they were seniors on the football team at Logansport High in the fall of 1964.
      Spears weighed 155 pounds then -- he's just a little above that now, just a little -- but he had enough talent and Harvey got the ball to him often enough that Spears made Class B All-State as a running back.
      However, he will tell you that Harvey was the heart of the team that went 8-2 in the regular season and undefeated in winning the District 1-B championship and eventually -- even after Harvey's paralyzing hit in the regular-season finale -- lost in the state semifinals at Kinder.
      "He was just an athlete, a natural athlete who could play any sport well," says Spears. "It was like he was older and more mature than anybody else we had. He was real popular, well-spoken, and well-liked by everyone in school."
      They were, Spears adds, "pretty close friends; I spent a lot of time at his house. My first date, I double-dated with Kenneth ... we took twins to the sweetheart banquet at the school cafeteria. Kenneth drove, and I'm not even sure he had a driver's license yet."
      They were both presidents of Logansport High's Future Farmers of America chapter -- Harvey in their junior year, Spears in their senior year. It was just one of many school activities, and off-the-field pursuits, they shared.
       "We had a lot of fun; we messed around like kids do," Spears recalls. "But nothing really bad. ... Kenneth, he was always kind of michevious. He'd cut up some in school, but he was so popular, he didn't get in trouble. He knew how to play those teachers."
       Spears is a good story himself -- a softball coaching legend at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C. He was the coach who started the program and the job became the most prominent of the variety of jobs he held at that NCAA Division II school over three decades.
       High school star, college football walk-on who decided he'd rather just be a student, college dropout, U.S. Army and Vietnam veteran, back to Northwestern State University to earn a degree in education, then one of Lander's first employees (a connection made through his junior college friend/college roommate, Randy Bouknight of Shreveport, who remains Lander's vice-president for student affairs).
        He coached softball at Lander for 24 years; his teams won 803 games (.628 winning percentage), and he inducted in the college's athletic Hall of Fame. He retired in December 2005 and moved to East Texas -- on family land off a farm road fairly close to the bridge leading into Logansport.
        Six years later, when Lander again needed a softball coach, he agreed to return for one year on an interim basis.
       The Lander softball teams play their games at a cozy small stadium -- Doug Spears Field.
       When Harvey skipped playing football as a junior, Spears thought basketball was his future, and that Tulane was one of the schools Harvey was most interested in attending and had a scholarship waiting. So Spears, who knew many of his teammate were asking Harvey to play football that fall, was pleasantly surprised when that became a reality.
        "I remember he pulled me aside one day that summer and said, 'I'm going to do it; I'm going to play,' Spears recalled, "and I thought, 'All right, we're going to have a great team.'
        "He was just a natural leader, people listened to him," he added. "He could get things done -- on the court, on the football field. He was confident in his ability. He wasn't that fast, but he had natural instincts. He just knew how to play."
        Walter Shinkus, Logansport's All-State tackle that year and the strongest man on the team -- Spears and Harvey both laughed as they talked about Shinkus' hay-baling obsession -- seconded Spears' opinion.
         "He was a good ol' boy. He worked hard; he wanted to be the best he could be," he said. " ... He had a good temperament, a lot of will. He didn't play around when he was the quarterback. He worked at it."
        Plus, Spears remembered, Harvey had an independent streak.
        "The coaches would send plays in and sometimes Kenneth would say, 'No, that's not what we're going to do, and he'd call another play," he said, laughing. "And we had some guys that the coaches would send in plays and they couldn't remember them. So Kenneth just called his own play.
       "Years later, I was talking to (head) Coach [Johnny] Haynes and Coach [Doug] McLaren (offensive coordinator) about that, and they said, 'Yeah, we knew when that would happen. But most of the time the plays he called worked. So we didn't say anything.' "
       Last week, looking at the Logansport High yearbook for their senior year and seeing the football results, he remembered one game -- at Cotton Valley -- "when Kenneth saved our butts.
       "They had one of the best teams in our district," Spears recalled, "and we were having a tough time. Kenneth made two pretty nice runs for touchdowns, and we won 13-7."
       The conversation turns to the specific play calls. "56 QB keep, I think," Spears said, and Harvey smiled and nodded in agreement, saying, "That's it. I ran it a couple of times."
       Spears was playing safety and Harvey was at right outside linebacker on the goalline defense on the extra-point running play against Many when Kenneth was injured.
       "He hit the guy, and it didn't look like much, but he didn't stop him and neither did I," Spears remembered. "I looked back and Kenneth didn't get up. I went over and I was holding his hand. He was trying to get up, and we [players, coaches and team doctor] were having to hold him down. ... I remember his hand suddenly just went cold. I thought, 'Man, what's going on?'
        "We were 17 years old. I hadn't seen anything like that in my life."
Doug Spears, second from left -- one of the many wearing
No. 45 on Kenneth Harvey Day (Ben Daily photo)
       Kenneth Harvey Day in 2009 and the memorial at the Logansport High football stadium for his longtime friend "meant a lot to me," Spears says now. "It was our way of saying, 'You are a really special person.' "
        Seeing Harvey interact with people in town and seeing him about town, Spears says, bears out that "he's done some amazing things after what happened to him. He's worked at the library, he learned to drive, he gets out and talks to people and visits." He also remembers Harvey as a spectactor at many Logansport High athletic events.
       "He was a good guy and he was a better person than he was an athlete," Spears says, "and he was a very good athlete. It's been a pleasure to have known him. It's hard to say what he would have done in life and in athletics if not for what happened. But it didn't seem to deter him with all that he's done with his life."
        We eat lunch, and we talk a while longer, and then we watch Kenneth roll into his van, get himself situated and get ready for the short ride to his apartment.
        "He looks good," Spears says a few minutes later. "He seems to be doing OK. We all worry about him some, but we're all really proud of him."
       (Next: A special dedication)

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