Whether it was athletics or business or family, Joe Reding has a lot to be proud of and cherish.
He is 70 now, white-haired, actually lighter than he was in high school and college, and in relatively good shape physically, retired and living a few miles from New Orleans.
|Joe and Karen Reding, on their 50th wedding anniversary|
Three athletic achievements that set Joe Reding apart:
(1) He was the first Louisiana high school shot putter to break the 60-foot barrier.
(2) When he set the state record in the shot put, the athlete whose record he broke was ... Billy Cannon. (If you don't know who Billy Cannon is, you probably don't need to read any further.)
(3) He won three consecutive state championship in the event. That might have been equaled but likely will not be topped.
I will add another, and it's a personal observation because being a year younger than Joe and being at other schools, I saw him in a variety of sports: He was the biggest, best, most dominant, junior high athlete I've seen.
He was -- to us -- Superman. With him as team leader, I don't remember Rusheon Junior High in Bossier City ever losing in football, basketball and track/field.
So when he went on to star in football (fullback-linebacker) and track (shot put) at Bossier High, and then go on to become a three-year starter (1966-68) in the offensive line at LSU, it was no surprise.
"He did some amazing things; it's hard to believe," his older brother and role model, Dick Reding, told me a few weeks ago, recalling that even when Joe was in elementary school, his athletic potential showed. And Dick was a standout all-around athlete himself.
"He was a fine football player, and great in track. ... Quite a guy," said David Smith, Joe's junior high and high school teammate and good friend. "He was a 'man' early -- just bigger and better and stronger than anyone."
"He was strong as a bear, with God-given talent," said Billy Don Maples, a Bossier High football teammate two years older than Joe and later on the same Airline High School coaching staff for five years.
"Dick maybe was the better all-around athlete, but Joe was a genuine guy with good values. ... He was an excellent offensive line coach [at Airline] ... a very, very hard worker."
The work ethic, traced to his parents' nurturing in Bossier City, and his talent and dedication carried Joe a long way through a lot of places.
|Three-year starter in the offensive line, 1966-68|
For almost two decades, athletics was a big part of his life. They provided an outlet, recognition as a star, the above-mentioned notable distinctions, eventually a college scholarship and then an entry into coaching.
That was a long time ago. Then he moved into real life, the real world.
There's not much glamor, not many headlines, in the freight business. But for some 38 years as a manager -- until he retired in 2012 -- it gave Reding and his family what they needed.
Home is now Pearl River, La. ("actually it's north Slidell," says Joe), and has been for 11 years. The Redings arrived there "just before [Hurricane] Katrina" and Joe was the manager of UPS freight division in the New Orleans area.
"We like South Louisiana; we're very, very at home here," he said. (Of course, South Louisiana is where he played college football.)
That was last of 12 moves through such stops as Memphis, Little Rock, Springfield, Mo., a decade in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore corridor and four years in Hurst, Texas (mid-cities area of Fort Worth-Dallas).
"I worked for five different companies, three went bankrupt," Joe said. "You move a lot; it's sort of like coaching or being in the military. ...
"It's been a good life; it provided well for my family."
Family: Joe and fellow Bossier High graduate Karen (Reisinger) have been married for 50 years (since his second year at LSU), with two children -- daughter Kathy, 49, and son Kris, 34 (both in the Little Rock area), two grandchildren (Kassey, 26, and Joe, 21) and 5-year-old great grandson Abel.
But he knew about close family ties from way back.
His father, E.L. (Elbert Lee) Reding, was the Bossier High football coach (1927-32) as a young man in his 20s; the Bossier High principal in the early 1950s, then after a few years out of education, a supervisor (assistant superintendent) in the Bossier Parish school system.
Dick was 18 months, two grades in school, older than Joe. Becky was four years younger than Joe.
E.L. and Doris Reding were deeply involved in their children's schooling and athletics, almost always present and watching.
But all lives have hardships, and so it is with Joe.
E.L. Reding, at age 57, died of a massive heart attack, sitting at home one evening drinking ice tea, in the summer of 1961 -- just before Dick's senior year at Bossier and Joe's sophomore year.
For Joe, it's been three knee surgeries, beginning with "a horrible knee injury in the spring of my freshman year at LSU" and three years ago "invasive lower lumbar surgery called a laminectomy ... which decompresses the lower back."
And then this: In December, on their 50-year wedding anniversary cruise, Karen became ill. The result: esophageal cancer.
She has undergone treatment in New Orleans and "we don't know what's ahead of us," Joe said, "but right now [it's] going very well and she has responded well. Best I can put it: We are encouraged, but guarded."
---Athletics began early; Bossier elementary schools -- unlike those in Shreveport -- had organized teams. Joe's prowess first showed in baseball; as Dick recalls, playing in the Dixie League programs, Joe once hit five home runs in five at-bats at one of the then-new Walbrook Park diamonds.
As a 14- and 15-year-old, he was a star on Bossier teams that played in the national VFW "Teener League" tournament in Hershey, Pa. The second year Bossier lost the title game 4-1 to a perennial powerhouse from Gastonia, N.C., and Reding scored the Bossier run.
"He was a great hitter; if he had stayed with it, he could have been a major-league player," says his older brother. But he left baseball after that summer of '61 and in high school gravitated to football, basketball (for a year) and the shot put and discus in the spring.
He got plenty of practice, and guidance, at home.
"When we were kids, we played a lot together," Dick said, "and we loved each other. But we were brothers; we fought a lot, too.
"Joe was pretty methodical," he added, "and very opinionated. He would argue at the drop of a hat, and he was very dogged in what he thought, what he believed in."
Athletics caught hold. "I remember Joe looking at the newspaper almost every day," Dick said, "and looking at statistics, writing them down. We had all these little pieces of paper all over the house, with the stats on them."
Dick would develop into a three-sport star at Bossier High. An end in football, he earned a scholarship to Northwestern State, where as a senior in 1966, he was an all-conference player and a leader of an undefeated [Gulf States] conference team coached by his father-in-law, Jack Clayton, in the final of his 10 years as NSU's head coach.
By the time he was a senior, he was a "future" pro football draft pick -- Washington Redskins (NFL) and Kansas City Chiefs (AFL). He did go to the Redskins' training camp in 1967, but did not make the team.
(He and Nancy, Coach Clayton's daughter, for years have made their home in Colorado where he was a teacher and coach.)
Dick, significantly, also was a two-time conference champion in the shot put. He was not the best shot putter in the family.
Here is how the late Jerry Byrd put it in his book Football Country: "Dick Reding was a rare example of an athlete who grew up in the shadow of a younger brother. ..."
Dick remembers this about Joe: "He had really strong hands, thick forearms, always. I realized after a while it might be better to have him as a friend than someone I wanted to fight every day."
Keep those strong hands and forearms in mind because soon they belonged to The Best Ever in the shot put in Louisiana.
(Next: Topping Billy Cannon's record)