Why is it that sometimes, more often than we would like, the good guys (men or women) are taken from us way too early?
That’s been a question with no good answer for thousands of years.
And today, it is a question we still have no good answer for.
It became front and center for many of us in southwest Kansas early Tuesday, when we heard the stunning and tragic news of the death of Ulysses High School athletic director and football coach Jason Kenny.
A recent history of heart issues may well have led to Kenny’s untimely passing Tuesday at his home in Ulysses. Perhaps we’ll just never know.
What we do know is that Kenny leaves a loving wife, Andrea, with whom he had just recently celebrated a 20th anniversary. He also leaves behind three terrific children, all of whom I have briefly met or visited with while covering athletic events in Ulysses.
Kali will be a freshman volleyball player at Oklahoma-Panhandle State University this fall. She has overcome multiple knee injuries, requiring surgeries, and it is perhaps one of her father’s legacies in that she never quit, never gave up, but went through extensive, painful rehabilitation to be able to continue her athletic career at the college level.
In talking with nearly every head coach at UHS on Tuesday, one thing became crystal clear — Jason Kenny was a coach’s coach and a coach’s AD.
If one thing is well known, it is that he hated to miss a game or an event regardless of the sport. Even if it meant rescheduling his football practices in the fall so he could attend a cross country meet or another varsity sport’s event. He encouraged his football players to be good classmates and go support the other teams, as well.
If that isn’t loyalty and dedication, and a good example for how to lead a life, then I’m not sure where to look.
As a sports writer, I think one always looks to coaches and athletic directors to be the vehicle that makes, or breaks, how much coverage we can provide on their athletic teams.
In the case of Jason, this writer couldn’t have asked for more.
If it was the results from wrestling, getting game stats from an assistant after football, or track meet information, he was always there with the necessary information.
If it was a phone call to discuss specific issues of concern, often times issues that were somewhat controversial as with classification and scheduling of games, Jason was always available to talk about the impact those would have on his school.
I’ll always remember the football and basketball games that I traveled to Ulysses to cover with fondness. Jason always made his office available to me, to sit and write my game story and be able to send it back to The Telegram’s office for publication in the next day’s edition. Oftentimes, he would sit and wait. Other times, I think after getting to know me and establishing a level of trust, he would leave and tell me how to exit the building and make sure the door was locked behind me.
I jokingly told him he had a lot of trust in me. His response was priceless in that, “I know where to find you if something’s missing!”
Now that doesn’t happen very many places.
One other memory, this one when Jason took his Tigers clear across the state to face Holton in the 2010 Class 4A quarterfinals, will always be etched in my memory bank.
It was a rematch between the same two coaches who had pitted minds and players five years earlier in the state championship game thriller when Holton won 28-27 in double overtime.
The outcome was the same, but the road to victory by Holton was much different.
What I remember is that despite getting behind early, the Tigers’ Josh Jarnagin returned the second-half kickoff for a 96-yard touchdown that gave life to the visitors, only to see the referee’s inadvertent whistle bring the play back.
Many coaches would have gone ballistic, and I wouldn’t have blamed Jason one bit for going off. But he stayed collected, asked the pertinent questions and listened to the answers. There wasn’t much he could do as the play was negated and the Tigers, who did manage to score 21 second-half points, never made a serious run that night.
For one of the few times in my writing career, I told an official how they had blown the call because Jarnagin was at least two steps away from the sideline and it changed the potential comeback for the Tigers that night.
Jason also half-jokingly described the Holton football field before the opening kickoff. And why not? Then, the field had about 10 percent coverage with grass and the rest was mud from a previous day’s downpour. There was an old oak tree that overhung the back right end zone on the west end of the field that could well have interfered with a pass into the deep corner.
The big question on that was how the officials would make a call if the ball hit a tree limb in the back side of the end zone.
And then there was the visitor’s sideline. Only about 15 feet from sideline to a chain-link fence provided space for the Tigers players and coaches. If one went either over or through the fence, it was about a 30-foot dropoff down the cliff. Not exactly a comforting thought.
His response, again, was priceless when he said “well, that must be the point of no return (when looking at the chain link fence). A lot of different ways for a team to have the ultimate home field advantage.” That was Jason Kenny at his wittiest best.
I bring this up because Jason could have mentioned any of these peripheral items as reasons for his team’s setback that night. But he did not. Instead, he credited the Holton team with being the better team that night. He was just that classy.
Post-game interviews with coaches who have just seen their team go down to defeat is never easy. And while I certainly can attest that Jason was disappointed and not happy about a loss, he still graciously sat and answered questions from an inquiring reporter.
I will be forever grateful to Jason, as I am to other athletic directors and coaches, for their ability to make my work much easier. He certainly did more than his share.
But I will remember the sly smile that perhaps hid more than he was willing to share that captures the spirit of who I think Jason Kenny was.
He was the coach’s coach, and a coach’s dream as an athletic director.
And he was taken from us much too soon. And I’ll continue to ask that question for many years to come. Why do the good guys have to be the ones to go early?
Sports Editor Brett Marshall can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org