Youth sports, Joe Dunning said, teaches children how to win humbly and lose graciously.

Youth sports, Joe Dunning said, teaches children how to win humbly and lose graciously.

With six children of his own, Independence resident Dunning started coaching youth sports about 25 years ago. Dunning, 59, had played sandlot sports growing up with neighborhood children but he’d never participated in organized sports.

Diagnosed with polio at age 2-1/2, Dunning wore leg braces until age 12, “and then braces just weren’t cool anymore.”

He tossed them aside for years, but with a laugh and a knock on the side of his leg Wednesday morning, Dunning indicates they have returned.

“I’ve had an operation on every appendage that I own,” he said.

Sometimes he relies on a wheelchair, but Dunning mostly uses a single crutch to get around. It’s never held him back, though.

More than 25 years ago, he purchased a Minolta SR-T 101 35mm camera. He took it everywhere he went, taking pictures while he was coaching his own children.

That’s how it all started.

These days, he can be found religiously taking pictures at Independence’s Center Place Restoration School junior high, junior varsity and varsity sporting events. Dunning takes pictures and sends them to the schools “free gratis,” he said, meaning “without charge and out of kindness.”

“Those people there are one of the reasons that I keep getting to do what I do because they let me park at the back door. I walk about 60 feet in. I’ve got my own chair, and they take good care of me,” Dunning said. “So, it’s actually not a chore but a blessing to be able to go up there.” 

Dunning also coaches the CPRS girls varsity soccer team with Steve Engelke. Most of the teams Dunning has coached have been part of Christian leagues, and he said most coaches have placed good sportsmanship and Christianity above everything else.

“I can tell you my philosophy. My philosophy is when I coach my kids, I want them to give 100 percent of whatever God gave them to the team,” Dunning said, “because not everybody is blessed the same, not everybody is made the same and not everybody has the same amount of talents. You can only give as much as you’ve got, and then that’s the best you can do.”

Nobody can ask you to do any better, he said.

In 2008, Dunning coached soccer from a wheelchair. He’s never let polio hold him back in any capacity.

“I got a deer Sunday,” Dunning said. “I still go hunting. I don’t go rock climbing. I don’t jump out of airplanes, but I try not to be curtailed by my limitations. Besides, if I did that, I’d miss out on half the lives of my kids. I can’t do that.

“Do I get upset about it? No,” Dunning said. “Do I wish there were some things I could do that I can’t do? Yes.”

He would love to run, for starters.

“I think when I get to heaven, Lord is going to let me be a messenger or run or do something cool,” Dunning said. “I’ve never been able to run.”

He plans to retire next year from his federal government career in downtown Kansas City. Then, Dunning will become “a gym rat,” watching as many youth sports as possible. 

“It teaches a lot of kids that they can do a lot of things that they never thought they could do,” Dunning said. “You can see the smile on a kid who has never shot a 3, who has never scored a goal, who has never stopped a soccer ball, and you talk about an accomplishment.”

Joe Dunning is thankful for three things:

“God, family and everything else – those are my three priorities in life,” Dunning said. “I’m thankful for each one of them. My family would be my greatest blessing.

“Family is one of the greatest assets a person can have. I am so thankful and so blessed for having such good families.”