Column: "The Sports Trail": Visit from former player renews faith in living to the max

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

by David McNeal

One of my former basketball players and his family came to town this weekend to visit after making a 13-hour trip from Joes, Colorado, for a funeral in Huntsville.

Renny James was a 5-7 sophomore when basketball season started back in 1978 in the small eastern Colorado towns of Joes and Kirk. Yeah, it's a combined school, and boy, you better not rile the folks from the two towns, just five miles apart, by suggesting the combined school is better than the two original products.

It's the story of much of the west. As farming operations needed more land and crops to survive, family farms either grew or sold out. The result was a population decrease in many areas.

When Alice and I coached there the school had around 200 students, K-12. Renny and his wife, Lynn, teach there now and reported they were down to 80-something bodies.

Tradition is big in the James clan, as Renny's mom, Janice, retired as a teacher at Liberty High School with about 36 years to her credit.

Renny and Lynn's son, Josiah, an eighth-grader, is following in dad's footsteps, playing football and basketball for the Knights. Their daughter, Tiegen, is a good athlete in the younger grades.

It will be fun to see if either one takes after dad when it comes to height. You see, Renny was 5-7 when the season started, and he was 5-11 and on his way to 6-7 like his uncles when the season ended. Talk about a growth spurt!

We took the James clan to lunch at Sparky's in Eureka Springs and Renny's amazing growth spurt, and the incredible amount of food he put away, was fondly recalled as we watched Josiah put away huge amounts of food himself.

"All he did that season was eat and sleep," Janice recalled.

Well, Renny went on to finish high school as president of his class, went to college at the University of Colorado in Boulder, earned three degrees, married his high school sweetheart, has had two wonderful kids, and is back teaching.

He goes to Denver Bronco games on a regular basis, although they break his heart more often than not, and has had some amazing adventures overseas in London and here in the U.S., including last summer in San Francisco.

He never misses a rock concert in Denver or at Red Rocks, often taking kids with him from the remote and isolated area that he loves. Janice is a literary giant, in my opinion, and one of the best writers around, but has one fault ---- she isn't into sports, unless her grandkids are playing.

But loyal as ever, she jumps in the van and goes when Renny needs her. That includes getting up at 1 a.m. to drive him home on poker night when he's had one beer too many.

Yes, he's quite a guy. Did I mention Renny broke his back in a car accident when he was 15, the summer after I coached him? He's accomplished all you've read about, and much more, in the last 27 years from a wheelchair.

The James clan has had a big impact on my life, and I'm grateful for all they've taught me ---- about loyalty, sacrifice, hard work, and most of all, about having fun in life, no matter what. Thanks, guys.

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