Communities mourn loss of youth activist
J.B. Stinnett remembered as tireless volunteer on and off the basketball court
Often it seems those who live for more than themselves are taken too early. And only too late are they given the recognition they rightly deserve.
The due and proper pageantry for J.B. "Butch" Stinnett, a lifelong area resident and youth activist, finally was granted Tuesday morning during an emotional memorial service at Village West Assembly of God Church in Kansas City, Kan.
Stinnett, 52, died last Wednesday, Dec. 28, at Providence Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan. He died from complications suffered during a stroke early Wednesday morning.
"People like J.B., who maybe aren't as well-known ... sometimes they fall through the cracks," Stinnett's longtime friend, Jim Ballew of Bonner Springs, said. "But, he was always involved with people and with kids. He was the kind of guy who would do anything he could for anybody."
A wide-ranging group of people -- school officials, coaches, students, athletes, former colleagues and friends -- formed a line Tuesday to pay their respects to Stinnett's family. An estimated 650 people attended the memorial.
Their presence was not only evidence of Stinnett's popularity, but also of his community works, which transcended boundary lines and activities.
He was a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp., a member of the Aldersgate Free Methodist Church, a former employee for the city of Bonner Springs and a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.
"He was the kind of guy you could call and say, 'Hey, I got this going on,' and he'd say, 'I'll be right over," Ballew said. "He always did everything with such a passion."
For Stinnett, there was no passion greater than his love of basketball.
For approximately 20 years, Stinnett was a nomad of the basketball bush leagues, roamed the sidelines as coach of youth teams in the fall and summer leagues, hosted free clinics to teach players fundamentals and was a permanent fixture on game days in gymnasiums in Basehor, Bonner Springs, Piper and other venues in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
Though his accomplishments away from basketball vary, it's his deeds on the court where Stinnett leaves his most indelible legacy.
'A gym rat'
Jeremy McDowell, who worked with Stinnett for several years as part of the Basehor Athletic Association, estimated that during the past two decades the basketball zealot coached more than 1,000 players from the area.
"Any kids who played basketball around here either knew of J.B. or was coached by him in some way," McDowell said. "Really, I don't know of a kid who played basketball that doesn't know of J.B. He was a gym rat who had more passion for his sport than anyone I was ever involved with.
"I would say he was the top volunteer in this community for the last 20 years."
Ty Garver and Mike Chumley, who also knew and worked with J.B. through the youth basketball rackets, expressed the same awe of Stinnett's presence among the youth leagues.
"(J.B.) would follow a kid from the third grade through high school," Chumley said. "He would sit in a gym for hours and hours, just watching. He worshipped the sport and felt he played a part in helping that kid develop."
"He was willing to take the grunt jobs," Garver said. "He would pick up the any slack there was for basketball."
Ballew said Stinnett's love for basketball was born as a youngster growing up in Bonner Springs, but didn't fully mature until he was older. Throughout their 20s, he and Ballew played in numerous leagues.
"And a countless number of games of one-on-one," he said.
Helping the family
Soon, a memorial tournament will take place in Stinnett's honor. McDowell, Garver, Chumley and others are organizing a youth league tournament, scheduled to Feb. 18 and 19 at Basehor-Linwood High School.
The tournament will feature girls and boys teams between third and eighth grades. The cost for entering is $175 per team. All proceeds will be given to the Stinnett family.
For more information, contact McDowell at (913) 980-4111 or email at email@example.com.
The tournament was organized as a way to lend financial support to Stinnett's family -- he passed away without medical or life insurance -- and to further credit him for the work he completed with young athletes.
"J.B. didn't care who the kid was or how good the kid was," McDowell said. "Anybody who wanted to play, he'd hook up. ... There is a huge, gaping hole in the community basketball program today. There is nobody around that will pick up the slack or dedicate the time to all the kids like he did. I'm not sure it's possible for anyone else to do as much as he did."
In his honor
If Stinnett's death has left a bruise on the local basketball community, it has battered grieving friends and family. Ballew said all other aspects of his life are on hold while he takes time to cope with his friend's passing.
"We were close, very good friends," Ballew said. "He was the best man at my wedding. We went to school together, grew up together, played a mountain of basketball together, raised a lot of hell together.
"He's the closest person I've ever lost. This is the first loss that's ever brought me to my knees."
Ballew said Stinnett awoke at his Basehor area home last Wednesday morning and complained to his wife, Pam Stinnett, that he couldn't move the left side of his body. He later got sick; it is believed he died from complications from a stroke.
He did one more selfless deed before he left this world -- his liver and kidneys were harvested for patients in need. But news that the strongest part of his body and soul -- his heart -- could not be used adds to the tragedy.
"He was such a wonderful person," Ballew said during a heartfelt interview just two days after Stinnett's death. "It's very sad. I just can't believe he's gone."
On New Year's Eve, Ballew and his family celebrated the holiday, and bade farewell to their fallen friend, by firing fireworks into the night's sky. Ballew said his friend enjoyed the Fourth of July above all other holidays. The display on New Year's Eve was a fitting way to say goodbye, he added.
Though the shots joined numerous others at the stroke of midnight, none had as much meaning behind them as those fired from the Ballew home, he said.
A man of his word
Pastor John Hull, who conducted Tuesday's memorial service, first met Stinnett on the basketball court. He described him as "a man who kept his word," and, in addition to his exploits on the court, volunteered numerous hours to a church renovation project.
"He was there Saturday after Saturday after Saturday," Hull said.
The pastor implored mourners to "take time for, and with, family" because life -- in all its beauty -- is unpredictable and sometimes fleeting.
"Deep down, we know we're not immune to (death)," he said. "But, we certainly hope so.
"It's the lack of family time people regret. My only advice, don't wait until it's too late."
Ballew said his friend would have appreciated the tribute granted in his honor, but that he would ask those heavy-hearted souls -- especially the ball players mourning him -- to weather beyond.
"He was the type of person who, if there was a cloud right in front of him, he'd look right around it," Ballew said. "I think he's probably looking down hoping all of us do the same."