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The 700 Club

Act of Kindness Results in 50 Year Friendship

Shannon Woodland - 700 Club Producer
Danielle Thompson - 700 Club Producer
Caleb Wood - 700 Club Producer
Amy Reid - 700 Club Producer

Meet Radio.  He’s a bit of a legend here in the small town of Anderson, South Carolina.  At 72 years old he’s still in the 11th grade - and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Radio’s best friend, Coach Harold Jones, says, “Every year they take a group picture in the gym of all the seniors that's graduating that year.  He will not get in that group.  He said he knows he would have to leave!”

Not only is Radio a student at T.L. Hanna High School, he’s perhaps the most revered member of its football team – the Yellow Jackets – even though he’s never played a second of football.   

Coach Jones says, “I think it was just God's plan that put Radio right down there on that practice field.”

It was 1964, in the heat of August, when JV coaches Harold Jones and Dennis Patterson noticed a young man coming to the practices every day, holding a transistor radio to his ear.   

Coach Jones explains, “He started mimicking us coaches and the players.  So we was trying to get him to come closer to us.  We wanted him to get involved.  So we said, ‘Well, let's-lets offer him a Coke maybe and a hamburger, and maybe we can get him to come.’  And that was the trick.”

They learned he was 18-year-old James Robert Kennedy, nicknamed “Radio” because of his obsession with radios.  In today’s terms, he was born with an intellectual disability, and was unable to learn how to read or write, and could barely speak.  But the coaches and players saw past that, and soon made him one of their own.

Coach Jones says, “He wanted to be like the coaches and all.  I was a defensive coach so, I'd give the sign, you know, and he'd do the same thing.  And then every once in a while if I, you know, got mad at an official, you know, he'd get mad at the official!”

Radio would become a permanent member of the team, going to practices, giving pep talks, and leading them onto the field before games.

Coach Jones continues, “Radio really loved those guys out there.  And the coaches.  He'd do wind sprints.  And you know, they just, they loved it.  He just grew a part of them.”  

He came from a rough neighborhood across town, and lived with his mom, stepdad, and younger brother, who was also intellectually disabled.  Radio loved going into town, perhaps to escape the ridicule and bullying from kids in his own neighborhood.

Coach Jones says, “Their mother, you know, she worked two jobs.  She worked in the hospital and then she did housework.  And her biggest concern was these two boys, you know.  Keep them out of the institution.  I told her, ‘We'll take care of Radio while he's at the school and everything, don't worry about it.’”  

So in 1970, the coaches arranged for the 24-year-old to enroll in Hanna High School as a junior.  Radio was ecstatic.    Coach Jones says, “I think that saved his life, being able to be out here at Hanna.  He was learning all the time.”

But the community at Hanna High soon would realize that what they got from Radio was more than what they were doing for him.  Coach Jones says, “He loves to give hugs.  I mean, if you're having a bad day, he can really raise you back up, you know?  He's just part of our family.  Like I say, I think the good Lord caused all that.”   

This wasn’t the first time Coach Jones reached out to someone who needed friendship.

He says, “I had something in my heart for people like that.  There was a kid about my age, lived across the street from us.  A lot of people would pick on him.  So I kinda defended him, you know.  And he was my friend.  I just think it was the right thing to do.   

In 1996, Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith penned an article about the friendship between Coach Jones and Radio.  From there, Hollywood director Michael Tollin brought their story to the silver screen in the movie Radio.

Coach Jones says, “When I'm answering an email, I always put down, you know, if it's a student I say, ‘Well, please find a student that has special needs in your school and become their friend.’  Individuals that have got a special need, they're just like you and I.  And they should be treated with respect and everything like we want to be respected.”

When Coach Jones retired in 1999, his biggest concern was whether his successors like Terry Honeycutt and others would take care of his dear friend.  He didn’t have to worry long.   

Coach Jones says proudly, “They stepped up to the plate, each one.  They love him.  They want to be part of him, you know?  They just – I mean, Radio's “Radio” now.  He's the man!”

Today that friendship continues.  And at Hanna High School, you will still find that same 11th grader greeting everyone with a smile and a hug, and cheering on his beloved Yellow Jackets.  From Radio – a young man who couldn’t learn to read or write, or even play a sport, comes a lesson we all need to remember.  

As Coach Jones says, “People with special needs, you know, they give us more love than we can actually return.” 

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