J. Kyle Braid Leadership Ranch hosts its last student

Before he even started the application process, Hinsdale South junior Dylan Boye knew he could be a member of the last class of high school students to attend the J. Kyle Braid Leadership Ranch in Villa Grove, Colorado.

After hosting more than 3,000 students over the last 20 years, the ranch closed Saturday.

Ken Braid, 63, is a 1969 graduate of Hinsdale Central who was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. While there, he played basketball and football before heading to Illinois, where he became captain of the football team.

Along with his ex-wife Colleen Malany Braid, Ken Braid started the annual leadership program in their son’s name after he took his own life. Kyle Braid was a high school football player in Florida who committed suicide in 1994 while under the influence of performance-enhancing steroids.

The Braids have decided to take their leadership programs into different directions.

“I’d like to say, ‘Don’t be sad that it’s over, be glad that it happened,’ ” Ken Braid said. “It was a good run. It was a dream, but a lot of people helped us.”

The foundation, through donations and fund-raising by participating high schools, covered the entire cost of the visit, including airfare and room and board. Gathering supplies and taking care of the transportation to and from the ranch proved daunting. The ranch, currently on the market for around $2.8 million, is located in the remote San Luis Valley, three hours west of Denver.

“You fly into the airport in Denver,” Boye said. “The drive from the airport to the ranch is longer than the flight. It’s in the middle of nowhere. At night, you can look up and see all the stars.”

One of the foundation’s board members, Naperville Central boys golf coach Barry Baldwin, said one reason for shuttering the ranch was fund-raising difficulties.

He made his 15th annual visit July 12-19 and was one of the leadership teachers for a girls session.

Among those he has seen come through the ranch are former Northwestern men’s basketball standouts John Shurna (Glenbard West) and Drew Crawford (Naperville Central).

Baldwin has performed every job at the ranch, from working the stable to serving food. Although the eating area can accommodate 40 diners, there are just eight to nine adults at the ranch in a given week.

“It’s the highlight of my year,” Baldwin, who admitted that he was teary-eyed on his final day at the ranch, said. “I get to work with the best kids in the Chicagoland area. It’s one of those things. You hear so much negative about teenagers. These kids do nothing but good. These kids pay it back.”

Ken Braid has decided to focus on building a leadership program in Florida to assist high school coaches. Colleen Malany Braid will relaunch the program under “The JKB Experience” banner and plans on hosting students each summer at its new base, downstate Monmouth College.

Oak Park-River Forest junior Jay Heininger knows it won’t be the same. He said one of his favorite activities last month at the ranch was a late-night hike with friends in the mountains.

“It’s weird that no one else will be going back there,” Heininger said. “I talk about it all the time. You’d like to offer other kids the experience, but won’t be able to. It’s sad, to be honest.”

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