The Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland had nothing on Jim Randolph. “If you had to symbolize Jim, you would do it in bronze with a huge smile,” a parent says. “His smiles were contagious and when one person caught it, it spread like wildfire,” recalls a former student. Years after his elementary physical education students have moved on, they remember the smile, the sense of humor, the silly songs and, most profoundly, the unwavering confidence he had in each one of them and the fact that they knew he truly cared.
There are stories of the boy who was too small to play on a varsity team; the girl who dropped by the gym almost daily to sing for the one person she knew would listen; the un-athletic youngster who learned to let go, have fun and focus on his strengths; the one who learned to push life’s boundaries and never quit. “It did not matter what kind of day I was having before gym class,” one of his former students remembers. “If it was a bad day, it turned up, and if it was a good day, it became a great day.”
Born in Canton, Ohio, Mr. Randolph graduated from Southern Local High School in Salineville, where he played varsity basketball beginning as a sophomore. Junior year he was the “sixth man” and by his senior year, he was a leading scorer. When a new student from a highly disadvantaged background joined the team, the coach asked Jim if he would feed the ball to the new man. His scoring average went down, but – in a life lesson of his own – he became the team’s all-time assist leader. For some reason, the stand-out basketball player wanted to be a football walk-on at Ohio State.
When he called the university’s athletic office to find out what to do, the guy who answered the phone asked him a few questions, including his height and weight. Woody Hayes told him, “Boy, you don’t want to come here. You’ll get killed.” That was the end of his football career at OSU. After he earned his degree at West Liberty State College in West Virginia, Jim taught and coached briefly in Carrollton, Ohio, before he moved to Houston and taught fifth grade at Law Elementary. His career path took him from teaching physical and life science in the Houston, Alief and Lamar school districts – with a brief side trip into sales for an oilfield supply firm – to Katy, where he taught math and science at Winborn and opened Alexander Elementary.
Bringing his considerable background in science with him when he transitioned to physical education, he incorporated health and science lessons between sessions of dodge ball and 50-yard dashes. But physical education and health weren’t all his students learned. “PE was Jim’s platform to teach the kids so much more,” a former student observes. “Coach Randolph helped me learn to achieve not by being the best or the most gifted, but by being the hardest worker,” reflects another. His young charges knew they could be “angels,” but needed to “stay on the ball” to avoid being “slipper-uppers” – terms his alumni still remember fondly. “If you had to symbolize Jim, you would do it in bronze with a huge smile.”
He carried his passion for sports in particular and people in general everywhere. He loved to watch football and basketball – high school, college and pro. He was in the stands every Friday night to see former students play when the Cinco Ranch Cougars took the field. But the highlight of Jim’s Cinco days were when his stepson Adam became a Cougar and played on that field. His best friend recalls that whoever he sat beside at a game became his best buddy for the next few hours. On the way into an arena, he would even strike up conversations “out of the blue” with homeless people on the street.
Mr. Randolph continued to be an inspiration even after he was diagnosed with the disease that would take his life in 2013. When he visited Alexander, he encouraged students to “value every minute and make the most out of life” – just as he intended to. He rounded up donations for an ailing colleague. He bought tennis shoes for a chronically sneakerless staff member who had used it as an excuse not to work out. His largesse and upbeat attitude inspired the first “Glow Run” – a fundraiser to help defray his medical expenses that attracted more than 800 entrants. Today the “Glow Run” carries on his legacy by funding college scholarships for former students. When the last of his StingRAEs graduates from Seven Lakes High, “On the Ball” Memorial Scholarships will be awarded to students who attended Randolph Elementary.
“Mr. Randolph was much more than an elementary P.E. coach,” a former student remembers. “He was a community leader, a teacher of life’s lessons, a bright light in everyone’s life who was fortunate enough to know him.” His role as a teacher of life’s lessons continues. “When I set out for work on Saturdays,” says a former student, “I always look myself in the mirror and ask why I took the job. The best and only response I can give is this: I once knew a man who taught me the values of friendship, family and a sense of duty to my community.