Football Writers Association of America 2004 BEST WRITING CONTEST

Jon Solomon, Anderson (S.C.) Independent-Mail

We like Radio because of who he is, yes. There he is every Friday night, funny and caring, leading cheers in the stands and tending to injured players on the sideline – the constant showman proving he can live a good life in spite of his diminished mind.

We love Radio because we recognize those traits.

Anderson, South Carolina might be perceived as behind the times. The Confederate flag still flies on our Statehouse's grounds, traffic jams consist of sitting through two left-turn lights on Clemson Boulevard, and nonexistent street lamps make our city anything but electric.

But we get Radio. You can't deny us that. We've been able to get him for decades now, and we love that no one tunes in to hear Radio like us.

If that sounds a tad self-centered about a community, so be it. Anderson is growing bigger by the day; shopping centers, steakhouses and movie theaters have commercialized the community into Everywhere America. Radio still distinguishes us, we tell ourselves.

Jon Solomon
The State, Columbia, S.C.
Age: 28
College: University of Maryland, degree in Journalism
Background: Interned at the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Columbus Dispatch in college. Covered prep sports at the Washington Post off and on between 1997 and '99. First full-time job was covering the Clemson beat at the Anderson Independent-Mail from 1999 to 2003. Began covering Clemson for The State in December 2003.

Our relationship with a mentally retarded black man, beginning when a white football coach discovered Radio loitering around T.L. Hanna High School practices, speaks to our values. It reminds us of words we learned from our mother: tolerance, humility, dedication, compassion.

Communities can be built on those words alone. Had teachers, administrators, coaches and students at Hanna not accepted those principles to heart unconditionally, Anderson would be a poorer place.

Life is short, so, so short. Radio was dealt a bad hand. He is a high school junior for life with limited thinking abilities, a stubborn attitude and a gift for living. Harold Jones, a teacher first and a football coach second, was wise enough to see the latter and gave Radio a home when others would not.

It's worth noting that James "Radio" Kennedy has a brother who is also mentally challenged. George Kennedy, known as "Cool Rock" to his neighbors, goes about his business quietly, earning a few bucks by raking leaves and cutting grass.

We don't know George. We see George, but we don't get him. Maybe it's a commentary on the value our society places on sports that Radio is the movie star, not George. Or maybe sports are such a perfect vehicle to deliver positive messages because our games involve acceptance and teamwork.

Jake Porter, a member of a high school football team in Ohio, gained national recognition last year as a symbol of sportsmanship. Mr. Porter suffers from "Chromosonal-X," one of the leading causes of inherited mental retardation. An opposing team let him score a touchdown on the game's final play last October, creating an inspirational story about accepting others for who they are.

Radio's similar gift also is visible on Friday nights under the lights. He is in his element by spreading joy. Perhaps in his mind – although we will never know this for sure – he sees our smiles as his reason for being alive.

Maybe Radio was put here so we could see ourselves, really see ourselves, and help each of us answer the most important question there is: "What is my purpose in life?"

Andersonians, we're on the clock. In the world of Hollywood, where "based on a true story” means tugging at your emotions through any trick in the book, "Radio" the movie premieres this Friday across the nation. Cuba Gooding Jr. will be in town for the red-carpet premiere today.

The Anderson Independent-Mail thought enough about this national story to print the special section you are reading now. "Radio" the movie has become another commercialized business. That isn't right or wrong, just another fact of life.

Good stories sell. Radio is a great story.

The entire country will now receive the message we have been learning for so long. We have to share now. We had him first – go ahead and boast, it's OK – and we will have him again.

Just make sure we really understand what we have. It goes beyond Radio. It's a goodness that ties this Bible totin', football-lovin', steakhouse-eatin' community together, even if that feeling happens only once a week in the fall.

We heard Radio once.

That should not stop us from flipping through the dials and hearing others.


Comment from the judge, Mickey Spagnola: Weaved his opinions with some social consciousness, while bringing out the emotional feelings of a somewhat backward mill city and how the people there realized they indeed had someone special in their midst. Well written. Found myself wanting more at the end.

• Second place: Eric Hansen, Irish Sports Report
• Third place: Stewart Mandel,
• Honorable mention: Pete Karasotis, Florida Today; Bud Withers, Seattle Times; John Canzano, The Oregonian