Former Coach's Gift Of Life Comes Full Circle

WACO (September 29, 2013) -- Joe Fonteneaux's family can't be contained inside a picture frame.
There's his wife, Joyce, his camera shy dog, Layla, and 31 very athletic sons.

Only three boys are biological. As the baseball coach at Paul Quinn College in Waco in the late 1970s, dozens more saw him as Dad.

"We really became a family, a really close family," Fonteneaux said.

While most teams graduate and go their separate ways, Joe and his players have gotten together every summer for the past 28 years.

Most family reunions can't claim that kind of track record.

"We are his family," said Kenneth Lee.

Lee, the team's shortstop, has no idea where his life would be without coach Fonteneaux.

By his own admission, Kenneth was a good kid with some bad friends. Coach Fonteneaux pulled him away from trouble and convinced him to go to college.

Today, Kenneth is an accountant in Memphis. His friends ended up in jail.

"I didn't know this is the man that was going to save me from incarceration," Kenneth said.

"The one thing that was most important to me was to build them to be good citizens, be good students and to graduate on time to go take care of themselves. So, it wasn't just a baseball thing," coach said.

A few years ago, at one of their reunions, coach Fonteneaux told his players that diabetes had taken its toll and he needed a new kidney. Doctors said it could take six to eight years to find a suitable donor. His family couldn't wait that long.

"When the opportunity came and I knew what he needed, ok, put me in coach," Kenneth said.

Kenneth was tested to see if he could even be a donor. Fifteen other players were on deck in case that didn't work out.

"I found out that God had set that thing up that it didn't matter what coach's blood type was, I'm a universal donor," he said.

The surgery was last week at Scott & White Hospital in Temple.

"It means the all the world to me now that just to know that they cared that much for what we did together," coach Fonteneaux said.

"There's nothing really we can do to express how we feel about him and what he's done for us," Kenneth said.

That's why the entire family pitched in. The right fielder donated Kenneth's flight to Waco. The catcher took care of housing, while the first baseman, pitcher, and almost the entire bench donated money to help with the process.

"Sometimes it might be a wild pitch, you've got to take that pitch to get on base so we win the game. With this, everybody's taking that pitch," Kenneth said.

Thirty-six years and one kidney later, coach Fonteneaux biggest lesson has finally hit home.

"We thought this was about baseball, but this was about life," Kenneth said.

A lesson that would make any dad proud.