When Laura’s high school honored their former all-state basketball players in February of 2010, the story that appeared on this blog had more to do with her famed high school coach, Jim Keith, than it did about Laura. The bond between the two, developed many years ago in high school, remains strong today.
Many others must feel the same way. That simple little story is the run-away most popular read in the two years of this blog. Google reveals the story as top-ranked for many searches using the Jim Keith name. Every day since being published there are hits on The All-Stater and Coach story. Then there are days when readers come in tsunami waves.
Laura and I believe the surges come when the movie Believe in Me is broadcast on cable movie channels. The story dramatizes Keith’s early years as a girl’s basketball coach in western Oklahoma. Usually, when the basketball season begins or nears its season-ending championship games, the movie channels fill up with Believe in Me and other basketball movies giving reason for the large jumps in readership after people watch the movie.
However, of late, there have been very large surges in readership resulting in numbers quite high for this small blog. What worried me is that many of the most popular stories that have appeared on this blog have dealt with death of people I knew well and were loved or respected by many others.
Fortunately, that is not the case with Keith. That does not mean that all is well with him. Through a Facebook friend, Laura discovered that the 84-year-old coach has battled stomach cancer. Surgery removed major portions of his stomach leading to dramatic weight loss. The once strong and robust man now weighs 115 pounds. Yet, when Laura called him, his voice carried the same warm, friendly and caring tone that has made Keith a favorite of mine even though I have known him only a few short years.
In the conversation with Laura, Keith’s loss of his beloved wife, Jorene, in October of 2009 still strains his devoted heart. After a 61-year marriage, it is easy to understand just what Jorene meant to Keith. However, life does go on. A life-long friend provides some needed companionship, but both know that replacing Jorene is impossible and both are content with that. Thankfully, his faithful black lab, Ruthie Rose, provides continued comfort.
When Keith made his move to the small town of Sayre in the early 60’s and reluctantly became the coach of the girl’s team, he dealt with many challenges that would have broken a lesser coach and man. Overcoming those challenges led to a career of lasting impressions on many more people than ever expected as the continued readership attests. My lasting memory of Keith at Jorene’s funeral was how important it was for him to comfort others when everyone in attendance was there to comfort him. Cancer will never rob Keith of his strength of character.
Coach Keith assured Laura that with time and God’s grace, overcoming cancer is just another challenge. He promised he would see us in Lawrence this winter when Oklahoma comes to Allen Fieldhouse to play KU. We both pray we will see Keith to thank him again for being such a big part of Laura’s life and now a part of mine.