Martin Luther King High’s James Reynolds is a football coach . . . was a football coach. . . will always be a football coach.
Just before the start of the 2009 Detroit Public School League (PSL) football season, Reynolds, 64, looked in the mirror and his reflection told him that it was time to hang up his whistle.
His reflection in the mirror also showed him that after 35 years at King, two years at Central and one at Mackenzie, coaching over 2,000 young men, and compiling an extraordinary 253-112 record, he needed to take care of himself now.
Reynolds’ decision to exit the sport that has brought him so much joy, while he turned many boys to men, was hastened by a stroke he suffered on May 6.
That setback was magnified, when one reflected back to the 2007 Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Division 2 Football Finals at Ford Field, where King overcame Midland, 47-21, to win the PSL’s only football state title. The day before the game Reynolds found himself in the hospital.
On the morning of King’s historic title game against Midland, Reynolds complained of chest pain and was taken to the hospital. He was released and made it to the game minutes before kickoff.
“I want to get well,” Reynolds told reporters. “I’ve got some pain. I felt being on the field I wasn’t getting any better. I went to practices, but all I could do was sit in a chair. I need to get better, and the only way I can do that is by staying at home. The stress and strain of being out there didn’t allow me to get better.”
When one looks in the dictionary for the word coach, one definition notes that a coach is a person who tutors, advises, or carries a student through examinations.
That description is the expectation of what coaches can or should provide to students entrusted to their guardianship.
In those cases football can be the carrot to get many engaged in school and is a vehicle to expose many to personal discipline.
Reynolds, in his strong, calm demeanor, has lived the definition of coach and has always taken his role as more than just a football coach very
“Football is a tool to gain a captive audience in trying to teach them the lessons of life,” he told me in a one-on-one interview last year. “Football is not an end in itself. Some get a free education out of it, others might one day get paid to play, but the things required to be a good player or
team are the same qualities that will help them in whatever profession they choose.”
While Reynolds was mentoring and understanding that many who came under his tutelage, needed more than just the lessons he provided on the football field, he also won — a lot.
Since the MHSAA started implementing state football finals in 1975, no PSL school had ever won a title, before Reynolds broke through in 2007.
In fact, he is also the only PSL coach to ever make it to a state title game. He led the Crusaders to the state title contest two other times, in 1989 and 1990, as both teams finished with 12-1 records. His 2007 champions finished the season 14-0.
He’s also won an incredible nine PSL championships, reached the PSL Finals six other times and is the only coach in PSL history to win 200 games.
A lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi, Reynolds surely loved winning, but he never missed a teachable moment.
Former King principal Sharon Robinson told me in an interview, “He was a gentle giant here at King. He did not have a lot to say, but he commanded
respect and discipline. School is about more than just the books. Students should be able to explore all their gifts and men like Reynolds provided our young men with an opportunity to expand themselves as athletes, students and people.”
Reynolds said his biggest thrill was seeing his athletes “graduate and walk off that stage.” He also pointed out that the hardest thing for him was seeing the disappointment his kids feel when they lost.
“Losing is when I had to do the most coaching,” he said. “I had to convince them that losing was a temporary failure.”
Reynolds may have conducted his final examinations at King; however, his legend will live on for the thousands he coached, advised and tutored.
Dale Harvel, an assistant at King for 24 years, will take over for Reynolds.
Leland Stein can be heard on WGPR radio (107.5) every Sunday from 11 p.m. to midnight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.