By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For me, it started with a phone call from former Iowa basketball player Mark Gannon last April.
He had Kenny Arnold on his mind, as he so often does.
Gannon was trying to think of ways to help his former college teammate and friend have a more enjoyable and pain-free life.
Arnold’s body had been ravaged from a 30-year struggle with multiple health issues that started with surgery to remove a brain tumor in 1985.
Gannon wanted to spark awareness for Arnold in hopes that Hawkeye nation would reach out and embrace the former combo guard who played a key role on Iowa’s 1980 Final Four team.
I felt honored that Gannon had reached out to me.
He then arranged for me to meet with Arnold and former college teammate Mike "Tree" Henry last April at a hotel in Iowa City. They had traveled together from Chicago to Iowa City so Arnold could receive medical and dental treatments at the UI Hospitals and Clinics.
Henry has dedicated much of his adult life to helping his less-fortunate friend, who lives in a nursing home in his hometown of Chicago.
I found Arnold’s story to be incredibly sad, but also fascinating and inspiring.
His story has since evolved into a major cause in which Iowa fans have rallied behind their stricken star.
Long-time Hawkeye fan Marty Gallagher read my story about Arnold on Allhawkeyes.com and was inspired to take action.
Gallagher knew he could help as the co-founder of Talk To Me Technologies in Cedar Falls. His company designs and build devices that help children and adults of all ages with communication.
Gallagher donated a device that helps Arnold communicate, but Gallagher didn’t stop there.
He and Henry joined forces and the rest is a heart-warming story that will take center stage on Saturday when Iowa plays a White Out game against Illinois at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Hawkeye fans are being asked to purchase and wear the No. 30 Kenny Arnold T-shirt to Saturday’s game with all the proceeds going directly to Arnold’s care.
The goal is to sell at least 10,000 T-shirts and to turn Carver-Hawkeye Arena into a white sea of love for Arnold.
"I’ve been very happy to help," Gallagher said Thursday. "It’s been exciting to see that Kenny’s device is motivating for him, that he’s able to communicate more successfully with his staff, family and friends. And when I talk to Tree and get updates from him, saying things like “Kenny’s back!” and “Kenny is back to his upbeat self again!” … it is just very rewarding."
Arnold can’t be there on Saturday, but many of his former Iowa teammates, including former star point guard Ronnie Lester and standout forward Vince Brookins, will be on hand to experience the power of the human spirit.
The Iowa players will pay tribute to the 57-year old Arnold by wearing his T-shirt during warm-ups on Saturday. They did the same thing for Iowa’s game at Northwestern on Jan. 15 in Evanston, Ill.
The Iowa City West boys basketball team also joined the cause by staging its own White Out for Arnold for Thursday’s game against Cedar Rapids Xavier.
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery came up with the idea for his players to wear Arnold's T-shirt before the Northwestern game. McCaffery was a standout point guard for the University of Pennslyvania at approximately the same time that Arnold played for Iowa.
Iowa clinched a spot in the 1980 Final Four by winning its NCAA regional with victories over Syracuse and Georgetown in McCaffery's hometown of Philadelphia.
"I remember that team well," McCaffery said Thursday. "I was at both of those games as a fan. I was playing college basketball at the time. I enjoyed watching that team: Vince Brookins, Bobby Hansen, Ronnie Lester, Krafcisin, Steve Waite. I remember watching that team play, and that region had some pretty good teams, Maryland, Georgetown, that they had to beat.
"I think it's great that when you look at it, how that group of guys has continued to sort of take care of Kenny, especially Mike Henry, but so many guys. And just think about how frustrated you'd be if you couldn't really communicate for 20 years, when you were fully aware of what's going on around you. So the fact that it came to be that we were able to figure out through technology and the advancement of technology to allow him to communicate, how great that is. It's unfortunate it didn't happen sooner."
McCaffery knows all too well about pain and suffering. He lost both of his parents to cancer, while his son, Patrick McCaffery, had a malignant tumor removed from his thyroid about two years ago.
Patrick is now a healthy 6-foot-8 budding basketball star, but his ordeal never will be forgotten.
Arnold's ordeal has stretched over three decades and has been filled with peaks and valleys.
He currently suffers from severe pain in both hips, partly because he spends so much time in bed.
It helps Arnold to withstand the pain by communicating with friends and with Hawkeye fans on social media. Gallagher's device has opened so many doors for Arnold, whose mind is as sharp as ever.
"It's a unique position to be in," Gallagher said. "And I am thankful that our company had the opportunity to help."
The list of people who have helped Arnold just keeps growing.
Gallagher's 13-year old son, Ben, deserves credit for designing the Kenny Arnold T-shirt. The shirts were originally intended just for members of Gallagher's family and for the players on the 1980 Final Four team, but the demand quickly grew.
"When it started to snowball and people wanted to order their own shirts, it was fun to see Ben's reaction to that," Marty Gallagher said. "And when Coach McCaffery had his team wear the shirts for warm-ups before the Northwestern game, I felt an enormous sense of happiness for Kenny. It was awesome to see something like that come together and Kenny is so deserving of the honor and attention."
Arnold's situation reminds us that competition only lasts for so long, but teams last forever.
Lute Olson had much more than a great team at Iowa in 1980. He had a group of young men who formed a bond that would get stronger over time.
Mike Henry never achieved stardom at Iowa, but he is a five-star in the game a life, the ultimate friend, unselifsh and compassionate. The same for Mark Gannon and the rest of the Iowa players on the 1980 team who are determined to make Arnold's life as enjoyable as possible under cruel circumstances.
"This particular group of Hawkeye basketball players – and really, the program in general – is an amazing collection of people who are gracious, thoughtful, caring, genuine and definitely a wonderful example of their phrase “Teammates For Life," Gallagher said.
There will be an amazing collection of people in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday to honor an amazing man.
Kenny Arnold deserves so much more in life, but he also is loved and respected by many and will be reminded of that on Saturday.
He just brings out the best in us.