He whispered, "Sorry, Dad."
It took 26 hours in ICU and a whole lot of pacing and praying and hoping by Kenny's friends and family, but slowly his heart rate came down. And then a nurse told him a remarkable thing. "Mr. Wilcoxen," she said, "We want you to know something. You've broken all our records."
"For what?" he asked.
"Most people in the waiting room."
For they had jammed that tiny waiting room at Perry Memorial and spilled both ways down the hallway besides. Parents of kids he taught. Uncles of kids he coached. Refs and umps and back judges. Relatives. People Kenny had known his whole life. People whose kids he had taught to dribble and bunt and slide and run the down-and-out and pole-vault and skip rope. Kids on his teams. Families of the kids he taught every day. Grown young men he'd had in eighth grade. Mothers who never thought twice about turning their kids over to him summer after summer to learn to hit the cutoff man and to eat Popsicles after practice.
There was more when he went home on Monday: hundreds of cards and letters, people thanking him for all he had done for their kids, feeling bad that they had never thought to thank him before. All the kids drew pictures for him, too, and nearly all of them signed the names he had given them. Gerdie. Little Willy. Tuffy.
"I guess I'd forgotten what all the kids meant to me," Kenny says today. "I was really amazed. I was amazed by everything, the cards and the people who called and all the nice things they wrote. You know, you go through life and you never think you make a difference in the lives of that many people. And then it just hits you."
It is a wonderful thing to be hit with. And in the stack there was the following letter from a 12-year-old:
I have had you for a coach almost all of my years in school.... You are the one teacher who has meant the most in my life. You are also the teacher I respect the most. You are the teacher who, when I look back on my life, I'll say, "That's who I want to model my life after." You have taught me a lot not just about sports or school but about life.
Not bad for somebody with no feeling for kids.