Ray Cox: A night to remember in Radford
By virtue of being the youngest of eight inductees into the Radford High School Hall of Fame class, Tommy Edwards was the last to speak the other night.
It had been an exceptional night of introduction for and acceptance speeches by inductees Dennis W. Hammack, Rodger Wills, Mike Grant, Kenny Edwards and India Adams as well as those who spoke for the late E.C. Dickens and Frank Hurd.
For one whose life has been listening to and telling stories, it was as riveting an evening as comes to recent recollection. For others, let’s just say it was getting late. It was a Saturday night and entertainments elsewhere included the televised NASCAR race and all sorts of college football.
Folks were getting tired.
With two-plus hours of the program already in the books, there was some shuffling about in seats when I followed co-presenter Buddy Shull with my remarks. Coach Shull was a tough orator to follow. Made me understand how whoever was next to speak after Bill Clinton last week in Charlotte must have felt.
Question Mr. Clinton’s politics all you want, but you have to admit, the man could take the owner’s manual for a 1962 Ford Falcon and make an engaging speech out of it.
Anyway, Edwards made his audience forget whatever either Coach or I said. “Touchdown Tommy” – the name given to the former Bobcats grid great by acclaimed author, ace fiddle player, and Roanoke Times parenting columnist and writer Ralph Berrier all those years ago – always had charisma. Nothing’s changed.
It was a wonderful evening for 1991 grad Edwards and his family because the same night, father Kenny Edwards and brother-in-law Mike Grant took their bows upon their own inductions.
Long-haired and weighing more than his playing days at Virginia Tech and Boise State but still having the look of an athlete, Tommy Edwards was a gripping speaker. Every eye was on him throughout and not a sound was heard except perhaps the soft plop of somebody’s solitary tear hitting the floor.
Coach Shull had said that save for injuries and bad luck, Edwards would have played in the National Football League. “He was that good,” Shull said. The old coach was 100 percent correct.
That’s not where Edwards matriculated, though. After Boise State, there were years of mental illness, substance abuse, homelessness. He said he tried to run away from who he had been, Touchdown Tommy. Couldn’t do it, though. He was wandering the streets of Ventura, Cal., a guy with no permanent address or much of anything else, when somebody recognized him.
Often, he weighed the option of suicide.
Eventually, though, he got help, pulled himself together, returned to the embrace of those who loved him, followed his talent for music to productive end, and got his feet back on the ground. The shootings at Virginia Tech prompted him in 2007 to start a mental health advocacy organization called Heart of Virginia. The mission statement is at http://www.myspace.com/theheartofvirginia:
“ … to raise awareness of the desperate need for expanded and accessible mental health and well being programs in the state of Virginia and to destigmatize mental illness through education and community outreach. Our Center for Integrated Arts consists of a combination of traditional fine and performing arts, as well as, healing and meditative art.”
Edwards closed with an a cappella version of the Bill Withers’ 1972 classic “Lean on Me.” The audience in the auditorium clapped in rhythm with him. It was impossible not to be moved.
The work goes on.
One more story:
Years ago, I was hired by this paper and given an almost unheard-of divided assignment to cover both sports everywhere and municipal affairs in Radford. I was a green but tolerable sportswriter. As for my other beat, there is no doubt I was the worst in the long history of the Roanoke newspapers at covering city councils and school boards.
That’s getting ahead of things. My family has longstanding ties to VMI so for many years we always went to the once-annual Keydets-Tech game. In such capacity we bore witness to some of the frightful single-handed whippings Kenny
Edwards and the Gobblers laid on outmanned VMI.
Fast forward to my first Radford City Council meeting. Already intimidated, I walked in and the first person I saw was none other than the one and the same Kenny Edwards, then a Council member. As the evening progressed, not surprisingly, Edwards turned out to be just as hard-nosed, just as ruthless, just as unrelenting in his stewardship of the taxpayers’ money as he was as a ballplayer.
I was scared to death.
The paper probably should have fired me. That sad end never came I attribute to the good graces, kindness, and patience of Mayor Tom Starnes and Mr. Edwards, neither of whom was ever too busy to take a phone call or spend time explaining the intricacies of city government to a rookie reporter. I’ll never forget it.
Power, speed, grace, class – Mr. Edwards the politician and Edwards the football player were one in the same.
First time I saw his son play football, I then had a chance to talk to him, I had one thought. Power, speed, grace, class –
I’ve seen this act before.
-Ray Cox covers recreational, high school and college sports in the New River Valley. If you have information you’d like featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 381-1672.
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