Kenneth L. Hardin: Fond memories of Knox Middle School

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 29, 2023

My cell phone rings quite a bit all day, every day. At one point, I had 700 contacts in it. I turn it off at 6 p.m. and it doesn’t come back on until 7 a.m. the next day.  I never used to do this, but for my mental health, I happily put it to sleep nightly. There are not many people I’ll pick up for on the first ring outside of the people who have a key to the front door of my house. If I’ve never listed you on my IRS 1040 form, you probably won’t get a live voice with me on the first call.

Last week, I did answer on the first ring, and after the conversation, I was happy I broke my own golden rule.

Former educator Margaret Basinger reached out to me online and asked if we could have a conversation. Contrary to how I appear, I’m really not a talkative person. I’ve always scored low on the social component with various personality profile tests. An evaluator said I was an introvert who understands how to thrive in extravert environments. Mrs. Basinger, I mean Margaret as I was politely instructed to call her, shared that she was writing a book about Knox Middle School and wanted to include as many former students’ memories and perspectives of their time there.  I told her I would be happy to assist. I have wonderful and fond memories of my three-year odyssey wearing the blue and gold from 1977-1980. I was and remain a proud Knox Trojan for life. I was even happier that two of my now adult sons had the honor and privilege of walking the same sidewalks and hallways back in the early 2000s that I did decades earlier.

I experienced many memorable firsts at Knox like my first kiss in Coach Cansler’s office after track practice as a seventh grader, my first broken bone playing on the football team in the eighth grade, my first paddling by the principal in ninth grade and my first school fight outside the seventh grade building my first week there.  I was scared to death, but life has a funny way of balancing things as my bully and I became friends as adults.

I forged great lifelong friendships with people that I’m still close with today. Those bonds were formed on the ping pong table in the lobby of the gym, where I played every morning before the first bell rang. When I wasn’t on the table, we pitched quarters, or I played basketball in the teachers parking lot. One day a science teacher purposely parked his VW bug under the basketball goals.  A group of ninth graders and I picked the car up and moved it out of the way so we could continue to play. The patio area outside of the cafeteria was the meeting place first thing in the morning whether you were a car or bus rider.

I played Gray Y football at Overton, but I was nervous and excited about being on a real school team when I arrived at Knox. I had three brothers who had excelled in sports before me, so I wanted Coach Cansler, Coach Sims and Coach Basinger to recognize me and be just as impressed.  I was a late bloomer, but by eighth grade I had earned a Knox track uniform and was a starter on the football team. Those coaches knew my name and I was in heaven.

I had some wonderful teachers at Knox. I always felt safe, valued and respected by the staff and by my peers. One person who stood out above all others was the late Coach Bobby Sims.  I grew up in a two-parent home and had other male figures in my family who positively influenced me, but Coach Sims was a rare and special man.  He was a father and uncle figure to so many students.  He exuded so much cool; he came across as frozen in hip and swagger that you couldn’t help but admire him. He was stern but caring and fair. I recall being involved in some youthful hijinks in the gym and getting sent to his office.  I was so nervous sitting in front of him. Instead of being upset and angry, he gave me my first lesson in why it’s important to be a man of integrity and a man of color with principles. Over 40 years later, I recall that conversation and the words he drilled into my consciousness.

Knox shaped and prepared me to move on to Salisbury High School in 1980, and I excelled there too. I look back on my years at Knox with pride. I’m saddened the physical structure may not remain, but they can never tear down the memories so many of us have.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.