FRUITPORT, Mich. — Ken Erny moved from New Jersey to Fruitport, Michigan back in 1978 and has become a staple of the community.
Erny was the school's athletic director from 1996 until his retirement on Sept. 1 of last fall.
Perhaps his most notable on-field accomplishment is starting the Fruitport soccer program back in 1990 and racking up 242 wins as head coach until stepping down in 2008.
Now, the community is rallying behind him after a June 2020 diagnosis that changed his life.
"I was walking 20,000 to 30,000 steps a day and noticing that something was going on," Erny explained. "My foot wasn't stepping correctly and I thought maybe it was bad shoes, so I went out and bought expensive shoes," he chuckled.
After six months of symptoms and a few doctors appointments, Erny went to Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, where he received the tragic news.
"The neurologist there said, 'I think you have ALS and you need to come back tomorrow for re-testing.'"
And the next tests confirmed what Erny had feared.
Now, 15 months after the onset of his symptoms, Erny says his fatigue and leg weakness is getting worse.
However, he adds that with all things considered, he's doing well despite his long-term outlook.
"We got the diagnosis and I didn't know what to say, so you ask the usual question, 'Well doc, how long do I have?' Erny recalled with a chuckle, "and he said, 'There's no way of knowing but it's an average of two to five years,' and the median life span is 30 months. I'm 15 months in."
After the diagnosis, Erny's family met with him at a local park to make sure he knew that they are there for him every step of the way.
"The day that my family committed that they will be with me no matter what, that was really step one of the journey."
Despite the news, Erny is staying positive.
In fact, every Wednesday morning he and his friends will meet at the local coffee shop to share prayers, laughs and stories.
"I have a choice," he said. "My response can be, 'Oh crap, look what happened to me,' or it can be, 'Let's use the days, the 86,000 seconds in each day, for something good.'"
He says it's the years of coaching and educational athletics that have taught him to stay strong through this tough time.
"All of the preseason camps, halftime talks or postgame talks, or just one on one talks have now come back to me, like I need the mental toughness and positivity."
Erny is still in touch will several former players, coaches and athletic directors and says it's the people that have stood out the most over his long career.
"What happens to people years later, as John Wooden used to say, that's when you know you're successful. You take away some of the thrills of great seasons and opportunities, but it's about people."
And he's never been one for the spotlight or attention but he has gotten a lot of it through the community, receiving anonymous checks, meals and everything in between.
The most amazing part, he says, is the fact that volunteers are building him a wheelchair accessible house.
"People have been so good," he smiled. "Comrades, ADs in our group, former coaches, former players, I can't say it enough and maybe this is the best time to say thank you to everyone and I'm really grateful."
The home, located in Spring Lake, is expected to be completed by this fall.
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