Everybody knew James "Jabo" Jabaley. More importantly, at least to my way of thinking, everybody knew him as "the nicest guy ever."
Since his death Nov. 5, I bet I've heard from two dozen people who said those exact words. I've known lots of people who've known lots of people. Usually they are well-connected in certain worlds. You know, "he knows everybody in North Georgia."
It is certainly true that anyone connected with the local high school wrestling community not only knew of Jabo, they knew him on a personal level. The same is true of folks connected with Notre Dame High School.
But Jabo's reach went further. It's no secret that he battled his demons. Because of that, Jabo met a lot of people in our community who also were dealing with addictions. It's hard to know how many people were touched over the years by Jabo. Maybe it was just a hug, a smile or a kind word, all of which he gave freely. Maybe it was much more.
Judging by the number of people who waited in line Sunday to offer their condolences to the family, it's not an exaggeration to say that Jabo touched hundreds of people.
When I mentioned to his mother the number of people who'd called him "the nicest guy ever," she said she'd been hearing the same thing and how he had helped them.
"We never knew," she said.
When I was a freshman in high school at Notre Dame, Jabo was a senior in our gym class. I was surprised to read the other day that he had won each of his three state wrestling titles at 105 pounds. He seemed much bigger than that, dominating us in whatever we played in those classes. But what I remember is how hard he worked at making everyone feel like a part of the team.
Years later, when our sons were in kindergarten together, he took them both for the weekend and stopped to buy them a small toy. He called me a short while later to brag on something kind that my son had done. Jabo was so excited to be sharing the story.
Many years later, Randy Carson told me about wrestling against Jabo while he was a freshman at Marion County.
"All I remember is, the ref blew the whistle, and the next thing I know I'm on my back, and the ref is holding up his finger and thumb to show how far my shoulder is from being pinned," Carson told me. "I remember thinking, 'If you'll show me which shoulder, we can get this over with.'"
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...