September 18, 2014

Medina
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Somebody always had Kendel’s back

Steve King

The Gazette

Jim Kendel has always had the best of the best to help him get wherever he wanted to go in life.

Working behind what he calls “just a tremendous offensive line” while at Highland High School in the mid-1970s, he became one of the best running backs in Medina County football history.

It’s for his exploits on the football field that he will be inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame on June 18 as part of the class of 2009. The event, sponsored by the Medina Breakfast Kiwanis Club and The Gazette, will be held at The Galaxy Restaurant in Wadsworth. The doors will open at 6 p.m., with the program beginning at 6:30.

In addition, Kendel is where he’s right now in his life, having operated Medina Family Chiropractic Center for the past 25 years, because of being escorted there by one man.

As a seventh-grader, he suffered a back injury and was told he would never play football again. He tried to play as an eighth-grader, but the injury came back.

Desperate, he and his family found a chiropractor who was able to cure him, and a career was born. Actually, two careers, if you think about it.

“Looking back now, I can see that that whole thing with my back was God paving the way for me for where I would go later in life,” Kendel said while taking a break from seeing his own patients.

In the last quarter-century since opening his practice, he has helped countless athletes and others to feel better and start living a full life again. The satisfied, pain-free smiles he gets in return are his touchdowns now, and he takes great joy in scoring each and every one of them. He knows the constraints of a bad back.

But there once was a time when the touchdowns in Kendel’s life were the real ones.

When his career ended, Kendel was third in Medina County history with 44 touchdowns, 2,551 rushing yards, 16 two-point conversions and 308 points. Two of the men in front of Kendel in those categories (Medina’s Dean Brubaker and Highland’s Ken Luttner) are already in the Hall of Fame.

Although a starter as a sophomore in 1973, Kendel really began to hit his stride as a junior, scoring a staggering 21 touchdowns on his way to piling up 154 points.

In his senior season, he rushed for 1,007 yards and scored 18 touchdowns en route to 118 points. He was a marked man in more ways than one —before a game against backyard rival Revere, Minutemen fans hung Kendel in effigy. Everybody knew that to stop the Hornets, you had to stop him — or at least slow him down. Few opponents were able to do that as Highland went a combined 18-2 in his final two seasons.

Kendel says he was — and still is — a big fan of Archie Griffin, the two-time Heisman Trophy-winning running back whose Ohio State career was running concurrently to his at Highland.

“Back then, everybody was running Woody Hayes’ ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ offense, and we were, too,” Kendel said. “We had a quarterback in Roger Chaffee who could really throw the ball, but we just never passed very much. I’d pound it up the middle 30 times a game for three to five yards a pop, and that’s how I got my yardage.

“We had backs who were faster than I was, but that just wasn’t the offense that we used.”

Instead, the Hornets utilized the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Kendel as a battering ram to wear teams down.

But Kendel is quick to point out that his numbers were so impressive in large part because his blockers were so impressive. The list includes Jim Ritcher, who went on to star at North Carolina State and then with the Buffalo Bills and was a charter member of the HOF in 1986, Gary Cox, Jay Drake, Reed Coley, Dave Simmons, Dave Cavanaugh, Mike Hummel and Ted Parker.

A good running back — moreover, a smart running back —never forgets the guys up front, even all these years later.

And the people he went to school with at Highland never forgot about Kendel’s exploits.

“Two of my classmates, Mark Kuhar and James Kelly, took it upon themselves to be my advocates and to push for me to get into the Hall of Fame,” he said. “I knew nothing about it, so when I got word that I had been elected, I was really surprised. I was caught off-guard and really taken aback.

“And at the same time, I was very humbled, and speechless.

“In my line of work, seeing up close some of the athletes of today and realizing how big and strong and fast they are — how they have such amazing talent — it’s just really an honor that I’m going into the Hall of Fame.

“I attended the first Hall of Fame banquet in 1986 when my teammate, Jim Ritcher, got in, and to see how what was then a small event has evolved, and how they treat the Hall of Famers, makes me realize just how special this is.”

But what he did on the football field — he was a two-way player, also serving as a ferocious, hard-hitting linebacker — does not tell the whole Kendel sports story at Highland. He wasn’t just a great football player, but rather a great all-around athlete who could do — and excel at — just about anything.

He also starred in track in the long jump, high jump, 100-yard dash and 880 relay. At the Inland Conference Meet as a senior, he ran a personal-best time of 10.9 seconds in the 100.

Kendel’s experience in wrestling was even more interesting. Despite not having competed in the sport since the eighth grade, he came out for the team as a senior and made it to the state tournament.

He credits his athletic “prowess” to an Olympic weight training program being instituted at the school, the fact Highland had some great coaches who knew how to teach their respective sports, and the fact the school, especially in football, had some tremendous players at the time.

“A winning tradition and a tradition of success had been established by those who had come before you, and when it came to be your turn, you wanted to keep it going,” Kendel said. “You didn’t want to be the one to let down.”

At one point, Kendel had thoughts of going not just to college to play football, but to also make it in the NFL as a running back. However, as he got into the latter stages of his high school career, he realized there weren’t any — or at least many — 180-pound running backs in the pros, so when he accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Toledo and they switched him to free safety he was fine with it.

“Roving the back end of the defense like a free safety has to do, fit me because I had that linebacker mentality,” he said.

Things began well enough with the Rockets, as he started as a freshman. But against Ohio University in the fifth game of the year, things drastically changed — and his football career ended when a teammate failed to call out a crack-back block and he got blindsided.

“It was a cheap shot,” Kendel said. “I separated my shoulder. I never bounced back from that. I just never felt the same. I later suffered a severe ankle injury that haunts me to this day.

“I came back out as a sophomore, but every game, I just got beat up more and more.”

Football wasn’t that much fun anymore and there was no major field of study Toledo offered that he was thrilled about.

So he thought back to that time as an eighth-grader when a chiropractor made his back quit hurting, and decided to leave Toledo and football and enroll in the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.
And the rest is history.

On June 18 when he’s inducted into the Medina County Sports Hall of Fame, it will be like 1974 and ‘75 all over again for Jim Kendel.

And the best part of it is that some of his old Highland linemen — those who helped pave the way for him — will be in attendance, as will the members of his family, who are offering him their support in his present life and are anxious to celebrate the path he took to get there.

Contact Steve King @ sports@ohio.net.