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Monday, February 8, 2016

MY UNCLE JOE

I thought I'd spend a few minutes telling you about the first coach I looked up to -- my uncle, Joe Hartney.  Other than my father, Joe was my first role model.  My grandfather made sure of that by telling me about every positive trait Joe had -- and there were many.  My grandfather took me to watch him play fastpitch softball where he was a catcher and outstanding player.  And he took me to watch him coach.  He coached at all levels but when I was young it was watching his team dominate at Hayes Junior High School that stood out the most.  And it didn't matter -- playing softball and working the sidelines as a coach, I watched his every move.

Unlike me, Joe was an outstanding athlete.  He was all-state in baseball and football and won the West Virginia Golden Glove Boxing title.  He of course played collegiately.  He was also incredibly tough.  As an outstanding football player at Stonewall Jackson High School, he broke his arm during the season.  The next game was against their cross town rival Charleston High School.  Joe cut his cast off before the game and lead his team to victory. His parents didn't know until the next morning when they picked up the paper and read of his heroics.

Joe had a quiet confidence about him.  He carried himself differently than anyone I had known at that time.  He spoke softly but again, with confidence.  I wanted to be my Uncle Joe.  I saw how he coached and how his players responded to him.  As a young boy in elementary school I thought it would be great to be a coach -- like my Uncle Joe.

I last saw Joe this summer at my father's funeral.  I had given the eulogy and afterwards, not very mobile at all, he made his way to the front so we could talk -- so he could talk and I could listen.  What he said to me that evening will remain private but I'll never forget it.

My Uncle Joe died this morning after battling cancer for nearly a decade.  Many didn't know he was in pain all these years because he didn't broadcast such things -- part of his toughness.  Even in passing he has taught me.

How amazingly blessed I was to have such a great role model at such a young age.