Tony and Ty

The late Anthony “Tony” Townsend, holding the basketball, and managing editor Ty Rushing, far right with the Afro, were classmates through middle and high school in Kansas City, KS.

If you Google Anthony “Tony” Townsend’s name, you won’t find articles about him leading Washington High School to a 7-2 football season in 2004 or the full-ride athletic scholarship he received to Grambling State University in Louisiana.

Instead, you’re more than likely to find mug shots of Tony looking disarrayed accompanied by links about him attacking neighbors with an ax or a litany of other small arrests throughout the years.

I’m not defending Tony for whatever crimes he did or did not commit but I want to talk about who he was as a person when I knew him.

If you noticed the past tense there, it’s because I found out on Sept. 3 that Tony died after walking into traffic. He was 33; the same age as me.

Also, like me, Tony is a Kansas City, KS, native and proud former Washington Wildcat and Eisenhower Eagle, the latter school being where I first made Tony’s acquaintance.

Middle school is an awkward transitional time for most of us but Tony somehow made it look cool.

He was tall — I did not hit my growth spurt until well into my high school years — good looking, confident and cool, and had a great sense of humor.

The thing about Tony was that everybody liked him: Girls, guys, jocks, nerds, teachers, administrators and coaches. He just had a way of connecting with people back then.

Tony and I were on a few teams together and played football together our eighth-grade year. He was one of our starting tailbacks while I had a jersey and pads but, rightfully so, couldn’t even look at the field.

One day at practice, I remember telling him he should play quarterback and he kind of scoffed at the idea.

Enter our freshman year at Washington.

My mom put the kibosh on my football dreams — I was maybe 5-foot-4 when I started high school — and Tony was the starting quarterback for our freshman team and even got to suit up varsity. Maybe I have a future as a scout?

If I recall correctly, Tony became the varsity starter our sophomore year and after two rough seasons, he helped lead us to the playoffs our senior year.

Our team also featured future NFL Pro Bowler Darrel Stuckey so that also might have helped a smidge, not to take away anything from Tony’s performance under center.

Even though I didn’t play football in high school, I was still in proximity to a lot of the players since I was on yearbook and even volunteered as a water boy during my freshman year.

I hated being a water boy but it kept me close to the action and it got me rides to our big rivalry games, and I quit after we played those contests.

Throughout our high school years, Tony seemed to stay the same, which was a good thing.

One of my final high school memories of Tony was signing day in the big gym.

I beamed with pride as I watched Tony put on a hat cementing his commitment to play baseball and football — he was good at all the sports — at Grambling, the program built by the legendary Eddie Robinson.

I thought it was all clear sailing for Tony after that, but a year or so later, I heard he was arrested in connection with a robbery at a frozen custard shop in KCK.

At one point in time, he had a collection of mugs on the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Office website and many of us wondered “What happened to Tony?”

He didn’t really keep up with anyone, didn’t have social media and skipped our 10-year class reunion in 2015, which, to be fair, lots of folks did.

Also in 2015, the unfortunate ax incident happened and, thankfully Tony didn’t kill those people. A report by the Shawnee Dispatch newspaper cited police saying Tony had a history of mental illness.

Shortly after Tony died, his older brother, Kenny, wrote a tribute to him on Facebook and noted that for at least 10 years his little brother battled schizophrenia.

Kenny attributed Tony’s death to his mental health issues.

“At this point in his life, he didn’t have many friends or much of a social life,” Kenny wrote. “He was about going to work and coming home to play ‘Madden’ and just being around family. Within the last month or so, I noticed a slight change in him. I knew he wasn’t taking his medication, which wasn’t anything new to me, dealing with it over the years. He said he hates the way it makes him feel. I’ve pleaded with him for years to take his meds.”

Kenny noted Tony was dealing with some other physical ailments with his body, particularly his legs. The same legs that used to stand under center at H.D. Neil Stadium and run up and down the court in the Washington gymnasium.

“My brother was a soldier!!” Kenny wrote. “He fought this mental Illness for 10 years and 5 of those years was being incarcerated!! The mental illness was too strong this time around. My brother was killed today when he walked into traffic on the hwy and was hit by a vehicle! I felt I needed to share this because a lot of people knew my brother and had love for him.”

Kenny is right. A lot of people knew his brother and had love for him. I’m one of them.

Rest in peace, Tony.