September 27 last was a beautiful clear day in Connecticut, kissed by the first crispness of the early autumn. The leaves were only starting to turn, but in a couple of weeks the hills around Ledyard would be in full blaze. September 27 was a football Saturday. If the day had been warmer, in another season, the shooting would have taken place at the beach instead of out in the quiet woods, among the cedars and the pines.
Around one in the afternoon. Brian Taylor came by and picked Kenny Wright up at the trailer where Kenny lived with his divorced mother. Wright was 24 then, but still known for the fine and fearless high school football player he had been; he had set school records, and in his senior year, as a tight end. had made all-conference.
As the two young men departed, Kenny told his mother, Phyllis, that they were just going for a ride. Kenny knew this was a lie. He knew he wanted to stop first at his father's house to get a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun, to use as a weapon, not for recreation. He and Brian picked up another friend of theirs. Billy King. And, even though Brian and Billy were far away from Kenny when he fired the awful shot a few hours later, they have been charged as accomplices in manslaughter two.
We overemphasize sport in so many ways. Colleges sell their souls to stock winning teams. Grown men take games they watch on TV more seriously than their wives and children. Every year so many little boys from the streets trade in their chances for an education to chase after the rainbow of play-for-pay. Say this for Kenny Wright: he never let himself be deluded by athletics. They were never a means to an end. He only dealt in them for love.
His father, the older Ken Wright, pleaded with him to go on to college, to buy a diploma and more childhood with four more autumns on the gridiron, but as much as the boy adored football, he knew that he couldn't take four more years of studying, that it was time to get a job.
But to be in sports, to be active—that was always what motivated him, diverted him from the less active pleasures of life. "My youngstah just lived for his sports," Phyllis Wright says. She always calls him that—"my youngstah"—in her native New England accent.
There are so many kids like Kenny. Even when he wanted to be by himself, to be contemplative, in his way, it had to involve sports. He could not sit and read or even remain long before the TV. He didn't watch a whole lot of television except for sports. Instead, he would take a gun and tramp through the woods, hunting small game, rabbits or squirrels or birds. His father had schooled him in that when he was still a young boy.
But it was never important to Kenny that he find something to kill. He wouldn't even consider going off with his uncle in the autumn to shoot deer up in Maine. In a way, the only shot that ever mattered, in the woods, was the one he fired on September 27. "He just liked being active so," Phyllis says. "Lots of times he'd never even shoot at all. He just liked it out there: life all around him, but still alone."
The other thing Kenny did by himself was build up his body. Brian remembers that Kenny started that at a very young age, before other boys got into weights. He bought his own equipment. He read body-building magazines and followed their guidance. Bill Mignault, the football coach at Ledyard High, says, "Kenny was very proud of his athletic ability. He was very proud of his strength. And he was very proud of his appearance."
When Kenny graduated in 1974, his classmates voted him Class Bod (male division), and he posed with Kathy Nason (female division winner) for the yearbook. In that old photo, there is a smile playing across Kenny's face, but in those jet eyes of his there seems to be an underlying sense of pride, too. Class Bod was not just a gag honor. Kenny Wright wore his body well, and it mattered to him in ways that were right. He was always a physical person.