Shoes for Support

Local wrestlers show their support for retired Madison wrestling head coach Ray Black Jr. by hanging their shoes and other items on the wrought iron fence in front of his Main Street home in downtown Madison. Black, who is also retired director of the Lide White Boys & Girls Club, has pulmonary fibrosis and is battling that and pneumonia and COVID-19 at University of Cincinnati Hospital. “Please let everyone know I am battling and will not give up without the ultimate effort … I am very blessed with all of the outreach of support from my peeps,” he asked to be posted on his Facebook page. “I didn’t think my counseling & coaching and support would come back to me in such generous abundance! So, thanks for everyone’s love, support & friendships. God has made you all Blessings of God.”

Hundreds of gifts, well-wishes and messages of support from the community have arrived over the past three days for the family of Ray Black Jr., a local community leader who is battling COVID-19, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) and pneumonia in a Cincinnati hospital.

Black, a Jefferson County Councilman, retired longtime executive director of the Lide White Boys & Girls Club and former wrestling coach at Madison Consolidated High School, tested positive for the virus on Nov. 12 along with his wife, Vicki. The two first started showing symptoms on Nov. 8-9, but Ray’s condition quickly worsened over the ensuing week due to his IPF, a chronic scarring or thickening of the lungs without a known reason, his youngest daughter Coco Black said.

Vicki is recovering well, having experienced milder symptoms like fevers, body aches and congestion, Coco said, and no one else in the immediate family has tested positive. But Ray Black is battling for his life.

Coco said that at first her parents thought it was allergies, since they get them every year. But soon her father was relying on oxygen at home, and family members had a hard time getting his oxygen levels back up if they dropped. After a couple of rough nights, the family put up a shower curtain in the back of Vicki’s car and drove Black to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where the doctor Black sees for his IPF works.

Since then, Black has continued to need more oxygen daily, Coco said. Doctors on Saturday found pneumonia in his lungs, further complicating the situation.

The family gets updates on his condition daily between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., sometimes calling in to talk and keep him company, Coco said. She added that Monday was “a tough day,” and the isolation is tough on a people-person like Ray.

Black’s oldest daughter, Raimi Black Cardigan, posted to Facebook about his condition Sunday and asked for expressions of support and prayers. Within minutes, the post had hundreds of reactions and get-well wishes, Coco Black said.

“It’s hard for me to get my mind around how much this man has done for families and kids in this community,” posted Joe Cline, a 2020 candidate for County Council. “He did it for me when I was a kid and he did it for my kids. Multiple generations have been safe and nurtured by this man. He talked the talk and walked the walk. Get well soon my friend.”

The Boys & Girls Club and Madison wrestling program have also shown support and shared memories of Black from his decades of service, Coco Black said. After a 5-0 day against Bedford North Lawrence High School, the program dedicated the win to Black on its Facebook page.

“The support has been absolutely incredible, overwhelming, beautiful,” Coco said. “We have literally felt everyone’s love and prayers and support.”

Outside Robert Black’s home, wrestling shoes and a teddy bear wearing an MCHS shirt are tied to the fence in front of the yard. One of Black’s former wrestlers, Chris Tingle, left an old helmet there with the message “You’re the man! — CT.”

“They’ve made us laugh, they’ve made us cry with stories and love, and it’s just been really incredible to see how much love and support people have for my dad, my mom and my entire family,” Coco said. “The stories they’ve shared on his impact on their lives has been pretty remarkable.”

Coco said others have donated food, like the breakfast she found waiting for her outside her friend’s guest house this morning, where she is quarantining.

A lifelong Madison resident, Black attended both Madison Consolidated Schools and Hanover College, during which time he got involved in coaching and volunteering at the Boys & Girls Club, Coco Black said. He taught a six-week program to the Club’s members in 1973 and 1974 and established a wrestling club there before rising through the ranks as a volunteer board member, assistant director and executive director, a position he held from 1984 until 2018.

In that time he also served as an assistant wrestling coach at MCHS (1978-1998), MCHS wrestling head coach (1998-2005), assistant wrestling coach at Madison Junior High School (2006-2014), Madison girls softball coach (1973-2006) and refereed many matches at the Boys and Girls Club. He also left a mark on generations of Madison students through coaching basketball, softball, judo, table tennis and spelling bees throughout the years.

Black was also inducted into the Indiana High School Athletic Association Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2012 and holds the title of Kentucky Colonel and Tennessee Squire. His service has also been recognized through a 2014 Maytag Dependable Leader Award, 2013 Hanover College Alumni Achievement Award, “National Professional Service” and “Man & Youth” awards from the Boys and Girls Club and the 2018 The Golden Hoosier Award from the state of Indiana for community service.

Black, meanwhile, is temporarily checking in on Facebook to thank friends for the support — in addition to making friends with the nurses, Coco said.

“I am very blessed with all of the outreach of support from my peeps,” Black posted Tuesday afternoon on Facebook. “I didn’t think my counseling & coaching and support would come back to me in such generous abundance!!! Sooo, thanks for everyone’s love, support & friendships. God has made you all Blessings of God.”