Friday, September 27, 2013

Our No. 42 -- the magnificent Mo

Two of five: Mariano Rivera and the
 Yankees celebrate World Series
 championships
photos from sportsillustrated.cnn.com
      


















    
      More than a thousand times over 19 baseball seasons I have watched a New York Yankees game in person or on television or followed on computer and said, "C'mon, Mo, get this guy out."
       Mariano Rivera came through so often, it was a shock when he didn't.
       Like millions of Yankees fans -- yes, millions -- I feel blessed that he pitched for our team.
       Even non-Yankees fans -- I've been told there are a few out there -- can appreciate the greatness he has brought to the game.
       I don't like "greatest" labels, as I've written previously, but in Mariano's case, it works. He's the greatest closer in baseball history, we can all agree.
       It is -- as one of my favorite songs says -- time to say good-bye, to Mo and to Andy Pettitte, the other retiring Yankees pitcher. Sunday's game in Houston will be the last of their careers, whether they pitch or not.
       Soon, too -- maybe next season, or maybe even before that -- it will be the end of Derek Jeter's playing career, too. Rivera, Pettitte, Jeter ... three in the long line of Yankees' all-timers, all with five World Series titles.
       All have played with brilliance and confidence and talent, and with dignity, not showing off or showing up opponents or umpires, all clubhouse leaders, all media favorites.
       Rivera and Jeter are Baseball Hall of Fame locks, first-time ballot selections.
       Pettitte's Hall credentials aren't as certain; his numbers are very good; he won many big games, but he admitted using human growth hormones twice in 2004 when he was injured, and that might keep him out of the Hall.
---
      With Rivera, it's more than the 90 victories (61 losses), his 8-1 postseason record and four World Series closeouts, the 694 saves (a record 652 regular season, 42 postseason), the 1,211 pitching appearances, 13 All-Star Game selections, the symbolism of his being the last MLB player to wear jersey No. 42.
      It's his class.
      You can say the same about Jeter and, to a slightly lesser extent, Pettitte. But this piece is about Rivera, about this final season.
      In last week's Sports Illustrated cover story, "Exit Sandman," this quote from Joe Torre was so noteworthy: "Probably not since [Sandy] Koufax have we seen anyone leave the game with so much respect."
      Torre played against Koufax and was Rivera's manager for 12 seasons, four of them ending with World Series titles.
      The only thing wrong with Koufax, in my view, was he didn't pitch for the Yankees. He is my favorite non-Yankees player ever.
      Of course, I have many Yankees favorites. One was Sparky Lyle, the closer for much of the 1970s who was eccentric, and fearless. Sure, Reggie hit those home runs in the final game of the 1977 World Series, but without Sparky's work that season, no way the Yankees even reach the World Series. He was Cy Young that year.
      Like Lyle's slider, Rivera did it mostly with one pitch -- that cut fastball which broke so many bats and left so many batters perplexed with its late-breaking movement.
      But what I loved most about Rivera -- other than the confidence he gave us Yankees fans -- was that he rarely showed any emotion, he just did his job. If he closed out a game, he might make a small fist pump. If he gave up a big home run or lost a game, you might see a grimace. Almost always, it was strictly business.
      However, I saw a video a few years ago in which Mo is screaming for several moments at someone in the Yankees' bullpen area. Don't know what that was about, never saw an explanation. What it did show me -- as if I ever doubted it -- was that there was some fire beneath that placid expression.
--- 
      My favorite Mo moments, though, are when he did show emotion -- the pennant- or Series-clinching celebrations. Especially the 2003 ALCS when, as Aaron Boone rounded the bases after his pennant-winning home run against the Red Sox, Mariano ran to the mound and fell on his hands and knees, bent over, crying. It was his greatest pitching performance -- three innings of shutout relief in a tense, all-on-the-line game.
      And it wasn't all good; he dealt with big losses, with injury, and with tragedy. It proved he was as human as the rest of us.
      In 2004, just before the American League Championship Series, two relatives were electrocuted while cleaning the pool at Rivera's home in Panama. He flew there to attend to matters, then returned to his team.
      His three postseason blown saves were huge -- Cleveland in Game 4, 1997 (his first year as closer); Boston in Game 4, 2004 (starting the Red Sox's fabled comeback from an 0-3 series deficit vs. the Yankees and triggering their long-awaited World Series championship -- no more "1918"; and the bottom-of-the-ninth Game 7 vs. Arizona in the 2001 World Series.
      He had elbow surgery in 1992 before his career really got started, when few knew who he was, and the wrecked right knee (torn ACL) on the warning track in Kansas City during batting practice in May 2012. He had announced that 2012 would be his final season, but he didn't want his career to end like that.
      So he came back, rehabbed the knee, and he's been darned good this season (44 saves) at age 43. It's been a miserable season for the Yankees -- even Mo had seven blown saves, his most since 2001 -- but it would have been worse without him.
      He never, win or lose, skipped out facing the media after games.
The young Mariano Rivera, in 1996 with catcher Joe
Girardi, his manager in his final six seasons (blogsport.com)

 
      It's been quite a journey with Mariano, from the young, near untouchable fireballer in the 1996 season -- not yet the closer, he was so critical in the Yankees' first World Series championship year in 18 seasons -- through hundreds of victories and a few disappointments over the years, to this elder-statesman farewell season.
      The farewell tour has been unique. At each stop the Yankees made, the opposing team has honored Rivera with a short ceremony and gifts, such as donations to his foundation.
      One touching ceremony was the one a couple of weeks ago in Boston -- at Fenway Park, where the Yankees aren't exactly loved.
      But making the farewell tour even more special is that also at each stop -- and this was Mariano's idea -- he took 30-45 minutes and sat down to meet with longtime ballpark employees or fans just to thank them. To read the stories, those people all came away impressed and thrilled at how genuine, how humble Mo is.
       The greatest moments, though, have come this past week at Yankee Stadium -- last Sunday when his Yankees number was retired, so many from the recent dynasty years returned and the Yankees gave him about as many gifts as he has saves, and again Thursday night when he pitched for the last time in pinstripes.
---
      For the past 10 years, Rivera has been the only MLB player to wear No. 42 every day. The number was retired by MLB on April 15, 1997, to honor Jackie Robinson, who 50 years earlier to the day had broken the major leagues' color barrier. At that time, 13 players were wearing No. 42 and the "grandfather" clause allowed them to keep doing so until they chose not to or left the game.
     Now, only on April 15 each year, everyone in uniform in MLB wears No. 42. We all think of Robinson that day, but Yankees fans will think of Rivera, too.
      Growing up in Panama, the son of a fisherman, Rivera did not know much about Robinson. But he learned, he studied the man and his history, and he honored the wearing of No. 42. He came to represent the ideals that Jackie brought to the game and to society.
      But Jackie, after that first MLB season when he quietly absorbed the abuse as the first black in the game, was a lightning-rod player, not beloved by many opponents.
Rivera has been beloved, certainly respected, by just about everyone.
      I wish he could pitch forever and Jeter could play shortstop. But time doesn't wait on athletes, and it's time to move on.
      I've never been to Cooperstown, to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but several years ago I told my wife that I wanted to go when Mariano and Derek are inducted. So, hopefully, we'll be there in late summer 2019 when it's Mo's day. Derek will mean a return trip a year or two later.
     It's not easy to say good-bye. But it is easy to say thanks to our No. 42, the great Mariano.
One final championship: 2009


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.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

A special dedication

      (Eighth in a series)
      Considering what happened, his star athlete status and his popularity, a full-page "Special Dedication" to Kenneth Harvey in the 1965 Logansport High School yearbook, the Fidelis, was a given.
      The love in Logansport has never subsided for Kenneth in the 49 years since he was paralyzed after his headgear slammed into an opposing runner's leg.
      "Everyone in Logansport, Louisiana, loves Kenneth Harvey," says Doug McLaren, who was Kenneth's backfield coach in the early 1960s and later superintendent of DeSoto Parish schools. "He's always happy. Everyone knows him, and he knows everyone. ,,, The people in Logansport have a tremendous relationship with him. They'd do anything for him."
      McLaren, 81, retired and living in Natchitoches, La., remains close to Harvey, calls him often and comes to Logansport (70 miles away) to have lunch with him occasionally.
      "Kenneth talks for an hour," he says, "and then we eat for 30 minutes."
---
      Johnny Haynes was the head football coach at Logansport for 22 seasons (1954-75) and the 1964 team that Harvey quarterbacked was one of his best teams. Even without its star QB, it won a playoff game (against Sicily Island) and made the Class B semifinals, closing a 9-3 season with a fog-marred loss at Kinder.
      He was popular with his players, an even-keeled influence on the kids he coached, a fundamental Xs and Os teacher -- he taught math in the classroom -- and a disciplinarian when he needed to be. He worked his team hard and he had rules that when broken, kids would pay a price. His teams won consistently through the years.
      Still the solidly built man who once played end at Springhill High and linebacker, end and even tackle at Northwestern State and sometimes dressed out in pads at Logansport to demonstrate technique, Haynes remains physically active -- despite the pains that crop up at age 82 -- and is a DeSoto Parish School Board member.
      For Haynes, the Harvey injury was the most traumatic event of his coaching career. His gravely voice softens when he talks about Kenneth; his affection is obvious.
      "With determination, he's been able to lead a productive life," he told The Shreveport Times writer Vickie Welborn in 2009. "I'm just amazed, really. In my opinion, the only reason he has been able to live the way he has is because of his determination to work at it every day."
---
      Logansport, I believe, is the only Louisiana town directly located on the Texas border. Which is why at one time, about 1840, it was an international border spot ... between the United States and the Republic of Texas.
      You can check one of the town's landmarks -- the International Border Marker, right by the Sabine River that separates what is now the two states.
        Another landmark is the Bucking Horse in downtown, in front of what used to be Pace Hardware. Hard to miss because, well, downtown just isn't that big.
        Nor is it that busy. Oh, maybe when it's time for annual sand bass fishing tournament -- this is billed as the "Sand Bass Capitol" of the world, and the area is great for fishing -- or the Mardi Gras festivities or the various festivals.
        But mostly, this is a quiet, friendly place where everyone knows most everyone. The population (2010 census) is 1,555 -- 703 males, 852 females, 57.4 percent white, 41.2 percent black. It is 3.4 square miles within the town borders.
      It is just an old Louisiana place, 50 miles south and slightly west of Shreveport, is in southwest DeSoto Parish. Cross the Sabine River bridge going west on U.S. Highway 84 and you are in Texas, in Joaquin in a couple of minutes.

     Personally, we came here a couple of times around 1960 when some Dutch farmers worked at one of the area's many dairy farms of that time. How my parents found these guys, who knows? After that, Logansport -- for me -- became a going-through place on the drive to Houston.
      The best route from Shreveport south is Louisiana state highway 5, once you take the sharp right turn off U.S. 171 at Kickapoo.
      A history on the Town of Logansport web site says it "was founded in 1830 by Dr. Logan, who practiced medicine in Louisiana and Texas. He established a ferry on the Sabine River which was known as Logan’s Ferry." The town name became official when a post office opened in 1848.
      When the railroad arrived -- replacing steamboats operating on the Sabine -- it was ripe for the cotton and timber businesses for years and years, then cattle and dairy/poultry farms, and the oil and gas industry was as influential there as in many parts of East Texas and North Louisiana.
      The plywood plant operated by Georgia Pacific was the town's largest employer, and it was an economic blow when it closed in 2007. However, that was offset a couple of years later by the revenues from the Haynesville Shale formation.
      "We're like a lot of towns this size," says John Russell, the branch manager/vice-president of Community Bank, "we're fighting a battle every day economically to keep things going."
      But his bank is undergoing renovation -- about the liveliest action in downtown right now -- and funding is in place for the long-awaited replacement of the U.S. 84 bridge and eventually there will be two two-lane, one-way roads in downtown.
      Logansport going big-time.
      Although it wasn't as lucrative in Logansport as in other parts of DeSoto Parish, and the money has slowed considerably, the Haynesville Shale helped pay -- in full, without debt -- for the Dennis Freeman Memorial River Park, the riverfront site everyone is proud of; the new $2.3 million parish library branch (opened in 2011); buildings at 11 of the parish's 12 schools; and artificial-turf fields at the three high school stadiums, including Logansport. That last item, though, was the source of much debate.
      That stadium isn't the one where Kenneth Harvey played, but when the time came for a monument to honor him, it was the right location.
     The talk is that the most traumatic events in Logansport over our lifetime were the G-P plant closing, the burning of the old Logansport High School in 1991 (arson was suspected, and everything burned down except the gymnasium), and the Kenneth Harvey injury of Nov. 13, 1964.
      The past couple of generations of kids at Logansport High -- the new building on Highway 5 opened in 1992; the stadium came later -- might not know who Kenneth Harvey is, but they can walk over to the stadium and see the monument.
      And sometimes, they might even see the man himself in his wheelchair. He still gets around.
---
      Dale Morvan, who coached football at Logansport High for 22 years (the last 20 as head coach) and whose 1995 team delivered the program's only state championship, arrived in town long after Harvey's injury, but he grew to know him as Kenneth attended games and practices over the years.
      "Kenneth is always an inspiration to everyone," said Morvan, a current city council member. "He is a very humble type person. He doesn't have any hard feelings, which is remarkable after this very tragic, unfortunate incident.

      "The people in Logansport really love him, and care about him. It's a joy to know him."
Bernard Waggoner, with one of his favorite players and
friends at Kenneth Harvey Day, 2009 (Ben Daily photo)
---
      Of his three coaches, Kenneth perhaps was closest to Bernard "Tussie" Waggoner, the football assistant/head basketball coach. Waggoner, who taught and coached at Logansport High for three decades -- and, like Haynes, also wound up as the school principal, was 85 when he died Feb. 5.
      His son, Wayne Waggoner, a standout basketball player at Logansport and then at Centenary College and Northwestern State, recalled that Kenneth and his dad -- who were fishing buddies -- inspired each other.
      "Kenneth will tell you he was inspired by my dad," Wayne Waggoner said, "but I know my dad used Kenneth's strength as motivation when he was battling cancer."
      John Russell agrees.
      "I remember (Bernard) telling me that there were days that he was feeling sorry for himself," Russell recalled, "and that he then thought about Kenneth and what he'd been through all those years. And he said, 'I can handle this.' "
       (Next, and last: Faith, inspiration define Kenneth Harvey)

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)

Friday, September 20, 2013

A grand day in Logansport

On Oct. 30, 2009, Logansport honored Kenneth Harvey. It was his Day. (Ben Daily photo) 
   (Sixth in a series)
   Kenneth Harvey Day in Logansport, La., was Friday, Oct. 30, 2009 -- 45 years after he was paralyzed in a football-field accident.
    That day the early-1960s star athlete at Logansport High School was honored in a school assembly, a monument to him was unveiled and dedicated at the school football stadium, and he took part in the pregame activities at the football game that night.
    Which, naturally, brings up a question ... what took so long?
     "I don't know, really," answers John Russell (left, top photo), one of the organizers of the Day and vice-president/branch of a Logansport bank. "I think there was always a lot of guilt associated with what happened to Kenneth."
      But Russell (Logansport Class of '72), who was a 9-year-old in the stands on that night in 1964 when Harvey was injured, is clear on what the day meant.
       "It was a moving thing for all of us," he said. "Kenneth was always an absolute hero to us. ... What happened to him was so traumatic for our community."
Ben Freeman (Ben Daily photo)
---
        The idea originated with Ben Freeman, a Class of '60 Logansport graduate and current San Antonio, Texas, resident who was in the stands the night of the accident and had seen Kenneth in Logansport on visits through the years. After a chance meeting in 2008, the thought came to Freeman.
          "It was like it was in my mind and heart, and it wouldn't go away," Freeman told The Shreveport Times writer Vickie Welborn in 2009. "I heard it as clear as I'm talking to you: You've got to do something for Kenneth. I realized it was the Holy Spirit talking to me."
         He consulted with Kenneth's old coaches, who approved, and "when we talked to Kenneth and told him we wanted to do something for him, he had tears in his eyes and said he is not worthy. But he's been such asn inspiration to me and others."
      So a team of about two dozen people -- townspeople, former players and students, and the coaches of the early 1960s (head coach Johnny Haynes and assistants Bernard Waggoner and Doug McLaren) began meeting to find a way to honor Kenneth Harvey.
       With Russell and Mary Mac Thompson (second from left, top photo) as leaders of the effort in Logansport, the group decided on a Kenneth Harvey Day and to raise funds to have a monument placed at the stadium. The effort eventually netted some $20,000.
        And the "team" meetings brought a surprise, in Russell's view.
        "What we found was that there were a lot of guilty feelings by the coaches and his teammates," he recalls. "... Some of them felt like they had talked Kenneth into playing football that season, and [the meetings] showed how the guilt had preyed on these people.
       "I saw grown men squalling like babies when they talked about Kenneth."
---
       But after the months of planning and fund-raising, the arrangements for the artist's conception for the monument and the work itself, Mother Nature almost intervened.
       The night before the Day brought typhoon-like weather to Logansport and threatened to postpone the activities. Fortunately, it cleared up and the events went on as scheduled.
       A booklet commemorating the day's event, with dozens of photos, is a nice remembrance. The photographs were taken by Ben Daily, who also produced the booklet.
       Kenneth, in front of the monument which has him in Logansport uniform No. 45 -- gold jersey, purple pants -- in a passing pose, is the cover photo. There are dozens of photos of people either speaking or making presentations to him. 
The plaque that hangs in a Logansport High
School hallway (Ben Daily photo)
       One of the presentations was a collage of Kenneth photos and a duplicate of the monument inscription. It now hangs in a hallway at Logansport High. 
      The best photos are of the man himself speaking to the assembly, waving to the crowd, and that night -- wearing his Logansport letter jacket -- making the coin flip and holding up a football.  
       Especially poignant, in my view, are the photos of the unveiling of the monument at the stadium and the many people wearing gold No. 45 jerseys. That was a beautiful touch.
       Wish I had been there.
---
      "It's one of the biggest things that has happened in Logansport from the time I got there in 1957," said Doug McLaren, Logansport's offensive coordinator in the early 1960s (he was later superintendent of schools in DeSoto Parish) and still close to Harvey. "People -- former teachers and students and townspeople -- came back from everywhere to be with Kenneth."
Unveiling the monument with his coaches: from left,
Bernard Waggoner, Johnny Haynes and Doug
McLaren (Ben Daily photo)
       Doug Spears, part of the planning committee, says the occasion helped him become reacquainted with his old friend and teammate. He proudly notes that 27 of the 33 members of Logansport High's Class of 1965 returned for the day, as did most of the football team from the 1964 season.
      Said Russell:  "This was about a community healing. I think we all felt that we hadn't done enough for Kenneth."
       But not if you ask the honoree.
       "I told them then I didn't deserve anything like that, to have a statue put up," he told me when we met a couple of weeks ago. "
There were many people here who did a whole lot more than I ever did. They deserved it more than me."
        Of course, people in Logansport don't see it that way. To them, he's a hero for all time.
        And when I ask Kenneth how he reflects on the monument now, he drews out his one-word answer: "Honored."
        Then he added: "Like I told people, I might be 6-foot-3, but when all that happened, I felt like I was 26-3."
         (Next: Two old friends, one long bond) 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The town that loves Mr. Kenneth

       (Fifth in a series)
       Kenneth Harvey has lived alone in the Logansport (La.) Seniors Apartments for a decade, since his mother passed away. Gaynell Straus -- Aunt Gay -- is the person who looks after his well-being.
       She is his mother's younger sister. She was 13 when Kenneth was born, and says, "I was a built-in babysitter. I felt like Kenneth was half mine."
        She attends to his needs, makes sure he's OK financially, that things are in order at his specially designed apartment for handicapped, and that he gets enough to eat.
Kenneth with his mother, grandmother and
Aunt Gay, mid-1980s
        The Logansport community always has been supportive of the former star athlete, paralyzed in a football mishap in 1964. Fund-raising drives -- organized by then-Logansport High principal W.H. Jackson -- and a benefit show with a country/western star (Jimmy Jay) shortly after the accident and with help from benevolent funds at Kenneth's church and other churches through the years, financial help has been steady.
         There are, to this day, people who regularly send Kenneth money, in addition to what insurance was available and what Medicare/Medicaid provides.
         Aunt Gay, like everyone else, loves Kenneth's attitude toward life despite his physical limitations.
        "I've never seen him mad or angry or impatient," she says. "If I make a suggestion, and he might not agree, he won't say anything. If I say, 'You didn't like that, did you?' he will reply, "No, m'am.' But he's never mad."
        One of her suggestions made several years ago -- that Kenneth go out, in his wheelchair and van and get a hot meal at a restaurant every day he can -- leads to an interesting angle.
---
        The apartments are located on U.S. Highway 84 headed east toward Mansfield, no more than a mile from the intersection with Louisiana Highway 5 that goes north toward Shreveport. Almost directly across from the apartments is the Logansport Truck Stop, with the Sabine River Restaurant is attached in the back.
         On good-weather days, Kenneth will guide his wheelchair out of the apartment complex over to the restaurant. It's a trip of maybe 200 yards. It's easier than loading himself into the van, driving, and unloading himself.
          Yes, he goes across the highway.
           "Sometimes," he concedes, "the trucks stop for me."
          When he's telling this story, the three people listening -- I'm one -- look at each other and think, "OK."
           "Sure, we worry about him," says Aunt Gay. "But he's been doing this a long time. If it's his time, the Lord will decide."
            It's the same sentiment an older man -- who confirms the story -- shares at the restaurant when I go to visit and ask about Kenneth.
            There are five people in the restaurant when I go in. When I mention Kenneth, they all have something to say.
            "He's here every other day," says a young, petite waitress. "Sits at No. 14 (she points to the table on her right). Drinks sweet tea, orders a meal and has strawberry pie. Always wears a hat with some funny saying on it, different hats on different days.
           "And when I ask him how he's doing, he always answers, 'I'm mean as ever.' "
           That, of course, is a laugh.
           Another older man then says, "He's always in a good mood."
           As I leave the truck stop, I ask the woman at the cash register about his visits.
            "Everybody loves Mr. Kenneth," she says.
---   
           After his accident and his long rehabilitation, when he regained some use of his arms and hands and learned to drive the van with hand controls, Kenneth finished his high school credits, earning a GED by taking some courses at a rehab facility in Shreveport.
            When he was awarded the diploma from Caddo Parish, it read "Fair Park High School." He tells this story, still with some amazement. "Don't know why," he says.
           "I told them I wanted it to say Logansport High School; that's where I'm from." It was quickly changed.
          His college athletic dreams shattered, he tried some college courses. But his memory loss and impaired vision -- he was 20/20 before the accident -- made it difficult to read and to concentrate, and caused him stress. It didn't work.
---
      For eight years, 1985-93, Kenneth moved to Longview, Texas, where Aunt Gay and her husband had moved. He worked in the garden supplies store they owned and lived in apartments close to them, where his maternal grandmother also lived.
      It also brought him close to a friend, who actually was a distant relative.
Linda Gamble, with Kenneth on his "Day" in 2009
 (Ben Daily photo)
      Linda Gamble is a Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductee who was a girls basketball superstar before the girls game really took off. Just a couple years younger than Kenneth, she shattered records at Central High of Grand Cane -- close to Logansport -- and then played at Ouachita Baptist. She was a U.S. international player in the late 1960s and early 1970s; by the 1980s, she was the girls coach at Pine Tree High in Longview.
        She was happy to reconnect with Kenneth and made him part of her program.
        "He was a regular at our ballgames; we did enjoy having him being around our team," said Gamble, who would escort Kenneth to her team's games -- which mostly were in the aftrernoon -- and also arranged for him to speak at team sports banquets and church groups in the area.
        "Oh, I enjoyed that," said Kenneth. "She had basketball talent. She was a tremendous player, you know. She just didn't have the [playing] talent [to be a big winner as a coach."
        Lin remains a good friend.
        "He's a fine, fine guy," she said a couple of weeks ago. "It's amazing to me the attitude he's always had with all that's happened to him. He's a joy to be around. He radiates that positive side; he was always so positive, he wouldn't let you see anything but the bright side of life."
---
       When the Logansport Seniors Apartments were built and opened in 1993, the timing was right for Kenneth to return home, to live with his mother. For a time, he worked at the DeSoto Parish Library branch.
        Which segues into our Sept. 5 visit at the new DeSoto Parish Library branch, a sparkling $2.3 million building -- paid in full, no debt, thanks to money from the Haynesville Shale. It is located on Highway 5 just up from the U.S. 84 intersection, on the right side going north.
         The library staff, cheerful and helpful, proud of the building and eager to show it off, took us on a tour while we waited for Kenneth to arrive. It is spacious, with plenty of conventional books and audio books, six computers (all in use when we were there), a neat children's area, a history/research room, several roomy meeting areas and a couple of comfortable patio areas. 
         It was Kenneth's first visit to the branch and he had a little trouble finding it. When he finally arrived and we entered, the library staff -- Teri, Patricia, Angela, Joshua, among others --  came over to say hello to the familiar guy in the wheelchair and welcome him to their new home.
         They reminded him of when he worked in the old branch -- downtown.
         "Oh, yeah, I remember," he said. Then he sheepishly added, "I haven't been here before. I didn't know where it was exactly."
         One woman, Sue, knew Kenneth -- "I live in his apartment complex," she explained -- and asked what was happening. Told he was being interviewed, she inquired about how to receive the article(s). Her e-mail address was recorded.
         "He's just a great person," she said. "I wasn't here [in Logansport] when he was hurt, but I've heard about it."
         Later, the branch manager -- Linda -- greeted Kenneth enthusiastically and told the visiting writer that it was her brother-in-law's station wagon that carried the injured football player to Shreveport that night in 1964.                                  
          A couple of hours later, when we went to eat at the not-so-new but popular restaurant across the street, the greetings had the same enthusiasm. "Kenneth, darling, we haven't seen you in a while," our waitress said. 
           "He's always welcome in here," she then told the two guys with him. "We love to see him."           
          (Next: A grand day in Logansport)
       










        
   

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

No easy life

Kenneth with his mother, Frances, early 1990s
(Fourth in a series)
     It's a tedious process, Kenneth Harvey maneuvering his wheelchair in and out of his customized van, maneuvering himself into the driver's seat. 
      What is noticeable when you meet the former Logansport, La., High School star athlete, paralyzed 49 years ago after a football-field mishap, is that his feet now point toward each other.
      He's not one to complain. He does note that it makes his switch from wheelchair to driver's seat more difficult. He can't turn as easily.
      This day in early September, he has on well-worn brown boots, and he's comfortable in them. Beats the bulky, heavy steel braces and "big 'ol shoes" doctors had him use after an earlier surgery to try to straighten his feet. (Another surgery now, with Kenneth in his 60s, they felt would be of uncertain success.)
       "My Lord, every time I put 'em on, it took forever," he said. "I said, 'No more.' "
       So the boots are fine.
       His hands are a little unsteady, but after he was first injured in November 1964 and after a month in a coma, he had no use of them. Gradually some feeling came back into his arms and hands, and his movements were spastic, but with work he gained control.
       When he returned to Logansport after a four-month hospital stay in Shreveport, his parents arranged for a set of parallel bars to be placed in their home. It was on those bars that he put to use the dedication and effort that helped make him an athlete of note.
        "He never gave up, he learned to support himself," former Logansport head football coach Johnny Haynes said. "He worked, and worked, and worked. He got to the point where he could manipulate his arms. He had to drag his legs along -- he could not stand on his own -- but he's learned to drive that van with hand controls."
Kenneth working on the parallel bars, which helped
him gain control of his arms and hands
        And he can dress, shave, and feed himself. Again, it takes effort through the shakiness. The day we had lunch, he had red beans and rice, drank sweet tea, and took care of his banana pudding in little time.
        The biggest problem he's had over the years, he says, is kidney stones -- five of them. He lists the years of each occurrence (the last one was 1995), and that he finally passed them, "but it liked to have killed me." When doctors tell him that there's more in there potentially and he'll need to try to pass them or face surgery, he says, "I know that."
         Kidney stones, he adds, "they say are more painful than a woman having a baby." I tell him my wife -- and women everywhere -- might argue that one.
         But his feet have cut into his exercise routine.
         Life "is fine, I guess," he replies to a question. "Getting a little older. Can't do nothing like what I used to could. I used to have those parallel bars I worked on when my feet weren't turned so. ..." 
        More on those parallel bars below.
---
        Frances Liles was 10 days short of being 15 but looked older when she married R.V. Harvey. After five years, Kenneth Wayne Harvey was born, but when he was two months old, Frances decided the marriage wasn't working and ended it.
        Kenneth never had a real relationship with his father, and rarely saw him again, even when he made contact early in Kenneth's senior year at Logansport High.
        Frances and Kenneth went back to her home to live with her parents, E.W. Liles, on farm land near Stanley, La., (close to Logansport); she took a beautician's course in Mansfield -- 20 miles away --  and eventually got a nice-paying job there.
        When Kenneth was 5, Lamar Williams entered their lives, and married Frances. Lamar was his given name; everyone called him Hank ... yes, Hank Williams.
         He was a schoolbus driver who transported the Logansport kids; he worked for Logansport Motors Inc. but owned the bus. He had, said longtime Logansport resident Mary McCasland Thompson, "a wonderful sense of humor."
Kenneth and Lamar "Hank" Williams, 1966
         Frances and Hank "were the most upbeat people," said John Russell, vice-president and branch manager of Community Bank in Logansport.
         Said Walter Shinkus, Kenneth's Logansport High football teammate, an All-State tackle: "They were nice old country folks. ... Everybody helped everyone else in those days around here."
         Kenneth, said former Logansport coach and DeSoto Parish schools superintendent Doug McLaren, "came from a fine family, and he reflected that. Always a 'yes sir, no sir' type kid. No trouble of any kind."
         Don't know how well he sang, but Hank was a perfect fit.
         "I mean to tell you," Kenneth said as we talked, "he was like a real dad."
         For the rest of their lives, Frances -- Kenneth always called her "Bubbie" -- and Hank continued to support Logansport High in its activities and looked after Kenneth.
         When he was injured, and in the hospital in Shreveport for four months, they rarely left his side, only when relieved by his coaches and other people from Logansport.
         Haynes, McLaren and the school band director also took over Hank's bus route for those months -- as their regular duties permitted -- so that Hank could remain on the payroll.
         Hank died at age 58 of a heart attack, and Frances then took over the bus route. Kenneth lived with her for more than 30 years until she passed away in 2003, and he says now, "I miss her in a lot of ways."
          But while Frances and Hank were Kenneth's big supporters, they were not his biggest fan. Terry was.
---
          They lost a baby in '53. The next year Frances and Hank gave Kenneth, 7, a  baby brother -- born with muscular dystrophy. Terry Williams was a kid who never walked, the kid who had Kenneth's heart always, and everyone else's.
           You want to see Kenneth animated, watch him talk about Terry.
           "Oh, my goodness," he says. "He had a mind like you wouldn't believe. They sent a teacher to the house ... (starting) in 1960 because he couldn't walk. Three days a week, Katie Poag ... then later, it was Mrs. [Elizabeth] McCasland, and they'd work with him."
            He'd sit in those women's lap and read and learn, and Kenneth said that in 1965, they "gave him over a dozen tests, and he passed at a third-grade level ... with straight A's." And he says it with pride.
      More importantly, it was Terry who gave Kenneth inspiration. When Kenneth came home, stuck in a hospital bed brought in, unable to move much at all, it was Terry -- by now in a wheelchair ("we used to carry him everywhere," said Kenneth) -- whose voice he kept hearing.
Terry Williams: The kid who captured
everyone's heart
      John Russell recalled Kenneth telling him how Terry motivated him in his recovery.
      "Terry would say, 'Are you going to just sit there? You've got to get up and do something,' " Russell said. "Kenneth will tell you that Terry pushed him."
       "He was the greatest physical therapy I ever had," Kenneth told The Shreveport Times' Vickie Welborn in 2009. "He was always challenging me." 
        Kenneth tells of the adventures and fun they had, despite their handicaps, Terry taking spins on a tricycle and a wagon they couldn't pull too fast for fear of his falling out.
        And then there were the days when Terry goaded Kenneth about his work on the parallel bars. He had walked up and down the bars five times "because I was used to doing that. He [Terry] said, 'Do a flip.' I said, "Are you crazy? I'm not doing that.' "
        Terry: "C'mon, chicken, do a flip."
         "I didn't do it that day," Kenneth continued, "but I knew what was going to be. Next day, he's back and he says, 'Turn a flip.' "
          And so Kenneth tried it. "I got back as far as I could," he recalled. "Didn't want to push very hard; I didn't want my heels to hit the ground. I got halfway over ... but because I hadn't pushed enough, I got stuck. ... I'm looking up at him and saying I'm supposed to be looking down at you. ... I had to get help [to get off the bars].
        "When we got through, he and I could've died laughing."
         Sadly, Terry would live only a couple more years, dying at age 13 in 1967. His big brother obviously has fond memories. 
         (Next: The town that loves him)