Athlete recognized by Sen. Denham -- or courted?

Either Sen. Jeff Denham is a big Merced County sports fan or a savvy politician. You be the judge.


Los Banos football player and track star Kenny Johnson recently received a letter from Denham's office congratulating him on being named to the Merced Sun-Star's All-Area track and field team.


Here's what Denham wrote or signed: "Your performance through this season was outstanding and inspiring. It is very encouraging for me to see students like yourself who are actively involved in extracurricular activities. Your achievements are an inspiration to us all."


"We were shocked," Kenny's mother, Deirdre, said. "It's got the official seal and everything on it."


To the best of my knowledge, this was a first. Never in my nearly three years of covering sports for the Sun-Star had I heard of an athlete receiving recognition from their state senator.


Jan Taber, Denham's press secretary, and Shannon Watts, a district representative out of the Merced office, quickly corrected me. Turns out, Denham's been sending such letters since he was elected into office in 2002.


"We do that on a regular basis," Watts said. "We try to keep up on the locals and congratulate them as well. It's part of our practice."


Added Taber: "He does send recognition letters to various constituents in the district. He honors schools, artists and different businesses -- if they receive an award. When someone has achieved something, and it's brought to the senator's attention, a letter is something he might likely do."


Kudos to the Senator. But the Sun-Star wonders if Denham has a vested interest in the athletic scene or a fresh new vote?  Denham represents Merced and Monterey counties, as well as part of Stanislaus. Did other all-area athletes receive this letter, too? Or just Kenny?


Either way, he's won the heart of the Johnson family.


"It's going in a frame on the wall," Deirdre said.