As carried over the news wire and reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Man builds sports complex in honor of son
  
SPRINGFIELD (AP) — Just like his old man, Kyle Kramer loved sports.

The 11-year old was on every team his school offered and played three years on the city's Mighty Mights football league. His dad, a former star himself for the University of Missouri Tigers (1981 - 1983), coached Kyle's team every year.

And it's no surprise that the two were returning from a Tigers football game in Columbia on the day Kyle's life was taken away in an automobile accident.

In memory of the young sports enthusiast, Kyle's dad is building something his son would be proud of:  A 25,000 square foot community sports complex for young teams around the city.

"I'm doing something my son would have liked," Jack Kramer said.

The SportsPlex sounds like something Kyle might have dreamed up himself. The building will accommodate indoor basketball, soccer, flag football and other sports. Adjoining rooms will include an arcade and a food court — complete with hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels and nachos — in a dining area with a big-screen television and surroundsound stereo.

Kramer has paid for the complex, in part, with money he won in a lawsuit over the death of his son. The young man was killed Sept. 7, 1997, on a highway near Lebanon when a tractor-trailer swerved and overturned in front of Kramer's van.

Kramer doesn't like to talk about the accident, nor the settlement that followed. The Springfield businessman would rather talk about his favorite subject.

"I enjoy sports immensely and I enjoy kids immensely," he said. "I love kids and my family. This project provides me with the opportunity to work with all of those."
 
Passion, courage deserve respect
Jack Kramer, founder of The Courts
and supporter of youth sports, dies at age 41
 
SPRINGFIELD NEWSLEADER— A true inspiration, a man who not only exemplified courage, but what passion for youth sports is all about, died Saturday evening at age 41.

Many of you may not know Jack Kramer by name, but surely you noticed him if you passed through The Courts, since the time the plush, three-court basketball facility off E. Kearney opened three years ago.

Because Jack was always there. Even after he sold it a year ago, he still came around, all the time, to his home away from home.

Why? For Jack, it's where the kids were. And not just his kids. Any kids. In fact, Springfield might never again come across an individual more in love with youth sports than Jack Kramer.

Never mind that ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease, had left Jack a physical shell of what was once a 6-foot-2, 275-pound football star for Missouri, and now presented what had become a 140-pound man with immense daily challenges you and I take for granted. Jack was going to make it there. Shuffling his feet to move back and forth across the three gym floors at The Courts, he seemingly always offered a smile — especially for the little folks.

Unknowingly, he also was providing a living example for them, proof that any challenge they might encounter in sports, or life, can be met head-on through a strong spirit and bold determination.

"That's the thing I'll remember most about Jack, that he never gave up," said Chris Coskey, Kramer's friend and director of The Courts. "He was sick and he knew it, but he never gave up, and he didn't want people to feel sorry for him."

"He was a fighter."

ALS is the cruelest and most senseless disease there is. While those afflicted still function normally in their minds, their bodies rapidly deteriorate. Typically, those with ALS are given two to five years to live after diagnosis.

In that regard, Jack was a definite rarity. He lived somewhere around eight years with the disease, and probably would have gone on a few dozen more had he not slipped off a raft and drowned Saturday, shortly after partaking in one of his favorite hobbies — floating lazily in the shallow end while listening to St. Louis Cardinals games on the radio.

The way he died was yet another example of Jack refusing to allow ALS alter his lifestyle. It didn't matter to Jack that he had virtually no use of his arms or hands and was prone to falling on occasion, with nothing to break it except his head. He was going on with life as usual.

He was a regular at Springfield Quarterback and Tipoff Club luncheons to hear the city coaches talk about their young athletes. He loved the college programs, helping start the popular Summer Pro-Am League for players, past and present, from all local university teams.

An offensive lineman for three Tigers' teams that went to bowl games (1980-83), Jack lived and breathed Mizzou football. In fact, his wish was to have his body cremated and the ashes spread across the turf at Faurot Field. He was a big SMS fan, too, having attended the annual Athletics Auction on Friday night at University Plaza.

Clearly, sports was his life. And in all those years, Jack made the lives of hundreds of young athletes so enjoyable, both as a coach of several teams and a provider of a wonderful place to play.

"Jack was always smiling, because (The Courts) was something for the kids," Coskey said. "When some team would do well at state, or an AAU team did well, he kind of knew he had a hand in that. And that made him feel really good."

Jack built The Courts as a tribute to his only son, Kyle, who was killed in a auto accident in 1997 at age 11 as the family was returning home from a Mizzou football game.

While Jack and wife Susan had three athletic daughters who all got a taste of Dad the coach growing up, the bond between father and son was unique. There wasn't a sport Kyle played that Jack wasn't heavily involved in, be it basketball, baseball or Mighty Mites football.

In fact, the day Jack was released from the hospital after the accident that killed his son, his first request was to return to the Mighty Mites field at Smith Park and watch Kyle's old team practice.

"Kids are everything to me," Jack said back then.

So when Jack received an insurance settlement after the accident, there was only one place that the money was headed — back into youth sports through The Courts.

"That was his home away from home, where he felt he belonged," said Kramer's sister-in-law, Jill Brents. "Number one, because he just felt it was still in tribute to Kyle, but also because he just loves kids. He loved the sports, the atmosphere, the noise, the smell, the competitiveness. He loved it all. He expressed to me one time that sports gives kids confidence in themselves ... and that's something as we grow older, helps us get through the worst of times."

Drive by the facility on any winter night and you'll find a parking lot filled with cars as up to 220 teams participate in basketball leagues during the two-month sessions.

A picture of a handsome, smiling Kyle rests on a wall just inside the gym doors, where hundreds of basketball players, parents and coaches pass by on a nightly basis.

It's a shrine of sorts to a life cut tragically short. And next to it now should be placed a picture of Jack.

Not only as a reminder of the man who made so many hoops dreams possible for young kids, and who will forever be remembered for the admirable was he battled his illness.

But also because that's just where Jack would want to be — right next to his son, again.

— Scott Puryear
 
 
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est. 2000