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The Journal Gazette

  • File photos James Hardy led Elmhurst to 3A state runner-up in boys basketball in 2003, becoming the city's all-time leading scorer.

  • Hardy’s biggest achievements at Elmhurst came on the football field, helping the Trojans end a state-record 64-game losing streak to start the 2003 season.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017 1:00 am

Hardy had goods to be best of city in 2 sports

GREG JONES | The Journal Gazette

While it ended in tragedy, I choose to remember the best of the short life of James Hardy. 

A body was found in the Maumee River last Wednesday, and a day later, it was determined it was that of Hardy, who was reported missing May 30. The cause of death is still unknown.

Even though the news of his death is still fresh, my memories go back to the days when Hardy was a star athlete at the now-closed Elmhurst High School. Actually, it goes back even further when talk about this talented player at Shawnee Middle School began to come out before he showed up as a freshman at Elm­hurst. Sure, there was the initial controversy about how he ended up at Elmhurst and about his living arrangements.

But soon his exploits started to make people forget all about how he got to Elmhurst, but more about what he was doing there. His legacy grew and grew and started to reach legendary status when he joined a struggling football program as a junior. 

Why would a talented basketball player with a great future join a Trojans football program that had a state-record losing streak?

As it turned out, his biggest exploits came on the football field, starting with the upset of Class 4A top-ranked Bishop Dwenger to open the 2003 season that ended that losing streak at 64.

Not known as a football player at that point but merely as an exceptional athlete, he continued to break records on the basketball court just as his future began to turn toward the football field. 

When he decided to play both basketball and football at Indiana University, I was skeptical. He was a talented basketball player and outstanding athlete, but could he stand up to the rigors of playing Big Ten football?

Boy, was I wrong. 

He went on to a record-setting career at IU (playing football after giving up basketball after one year). Hardy is the all-time leader in touchdowns (36), catches (191) and yards (2,740). He also set a single-season school mark in 2007 with 16 touchdown catches. He was drafted in 2008 by the NFL's Buffalo Bills. Injuries sidelined the professional career, which also included a short stint with the Baltimore Ravens.

But Hardy already had proved me, and others, wrong. 

But it is more on the basketball court I remember Hardy.

He led Elmhurst to the 2003 3A state boys runner-up finish and also became the city's all-time leading scorer with 1,823 career points. He broke a record that had been held since the 1960s with Concordia's Tom Baack (1,623). Even setting the record was an adventure for Hardy, who picked up a couple of questionable technical fouls in the game where he could have broken the record.

He had to wait two more games to finally move to No. 1 on the all-time boys scoring list.

He held onto it, though, for only seven years until Bishop Luers' Deshaun Thomas shattered it and went over 3,000. Hardy's 57 points against Harding, though, is still the record for most points in a game for Fort Wayne. I covered that game and remember it well. 

Hardy was the second back-to-back winner of the prestigious Tiffany Gooden Award, which is given out to the top basketball player in the SAC, in 2003 and 2004. But he finished only third in the voting for the 2004 Mr. Basketball. Something that shocked him the day I called him for comment on the voting and ended up being the bearer of the disappointing news. 

“Are you serious?” is what he said to me during that brief phone conversation in 2004. 

More disappointment came for Hardy when he missed the Indiana-Kentucky series that summer because of a broken pinkie. But like he did for most of his athletic career, he quickly overcame the disappointment on the field or on the court.

There is always the argument of who is the best high school basketball or football player in Fort Wayne history. There aren't too many athletes, though, who are in the argument for both unofficial titles. 

James Hardy was a unique talent whose life ended way too soon.

Greg Jones is the assistant sports editor for The Journal Gazette and has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1998. He can be reached by email at gjones@jg.net; phone, 461-8224; or fax, 461-8648.