Instructor Tommy Renfro is passionate about the IU East family.
He’s passionate about writing and performing upbeat music.
And, he’s also passionate about the Cincinnati Bengals. “I’ve been a loyal fan for all of the garbage years,” he says with a laugh.
Those passions combined in a fun way recently to bring some positive attention to all three.
Renfro submitted a couple of songs to the popular daily podcast by legendary Tony
Kornheiser, a sportswriter and ESPN personality who is probably best known for co-hosting “Pardon the Interruption.”
“They take independent artist submissions and play them throughout the show,” explains Renfro.
He forwarded a cover of the song “It’s Gonna Be OK” in honor of the Bengals, who started the current NFL season with a league-worst 0-11 record.
He also submitted a special song about his late father that he wrote and performed.
The quick response from the Tony Kornheiser Show amazed him. “They emailed me back within six days and they played them two days later,” says Renfro, who is an instructor of science education at IU East.
Kornheiser chatted with him on the Podcast: “They do a little commentary about the music and where it’s from,” Renfro explained. “I gave a little shout out to the school, to the Red Wolves and to Richmond.”
Kornheiser was very complimentary: “It’s really good music,” he said during the podcast, which is available online.
Renfro is a big advocate for the educational experience at IU East, where he earned a bachelor’s in secondary education and a master’s in science education.
He’s also an advocate of the growing success of the Red Wolves: “Their growth has been amazing. The success of athletic programs goes over into student life,” he believes. “Students are way more involved in campus cultures than before.”
He’s been impressed by watching the men’s basketball program grow from a club team to the NAIA Final Four. The women’s volleyball and basketball teams also have done extremely well. “Women’s soccer made nationals this year. Those are incredible,” he says.
“We are doing great things.”
He chose IU East for his undergraduate work for many reasons in 2003.
He was recruited to play basketball, which was just starting. It was close to his home in New Madison, Ohio. It was less expensive than other universities. And it offered a closeness, a caring and connected atmosphere that appealed to him. “I love that it’s a family,” he says. “I wouldn’t have traded the quality of education for anything.”
Renfro was a successful three-sport athlete at Tri-Village High School. He is a sports junkie — golf, basketball, baseball, football — so much, he says. “If I had another career path, it would have been sports journalism.”
The 34-year-old spent eight years teaching at Tri-Village before becoming a full-time lecturer at the IU East School of Education.
Renfro worked toward a career in country and Christian music for many years after earning his undergraduate degree. Think upbeat music: songs of hope, humanity and hometowns.
He had success, too. At one time, he had a charted Billboard song on the Nashville-based record label Mission House Music with LifeStage Records. “I used to perform 85 to 90 dates a year across the South and Midwest,” he explains.
He shared stages with top Christian acts such as TobyMac, The City Harmonic and Jamie Grace and also recorded with studio musicians and executives that supported dozens of other major acts.
Ultimately, Renfro chose family over constant touring and the probability he would have to move to Tennessee to further his singing career. He and his wife, Jordan, are new parents of daughters Nora, 3, and Ava, 1.
They live in Versailles, Ohio, about a 45-minute drive to campus.
He still gets out there around the region — solo and with a band — and plays anywhere from churches to cafes to cancer fund-raisers.
Renfro also stuck around to answer the call to return to the IU East family as an instructor.
“That’s what we have — a family atmosphere of success,” he says. “We just believe in every student. They are names not numbers.”