Small-town team comes up big for renowned writer Dave Kindred
Dave Kindred reached the big time as a sports columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, Washington Post, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sporting News and Golf Digest. He had ambition, work ethic and talent … so much talent. He will tell you all he could ever do was “spell and type.” He leaves out that he does it better than the rest of us.
His mantra is “writers write” and at 82, he tries to write something every day. Some days it’s a Facebook post, others a note to a friend. On the best days, the words take on longer form, grow into a book.
Kindred’s latest is “My Home Team: A Sportswriter’s Life and the Redemptive Power of Small-Town Girls Basketball.” Released this month, it is the story of how writing about the Morton High School girls basketball team, and the players and coaches he came to know, sustained him through a dark period in his life.
He first wrote about Morton in 2010 after Kindred and his wife, Cheryl, returned to Illinois, where they had been high school sweethearts in Atlanta, Illinois, population 1,300. He’s written about the Lady Potters ever since for the team website and on Facebook, compensated only with Milk Duds.
“I found out that I couldn’t retire,” Kindred said. “So I went to a girls high school basketball game. I had never seen one. I discovered I could not sit in the bleachers at a basketball game and not want to write about it. So I started writing about it that day.”
He’s attended and written about nearly every game of the Lady Potters’ journey to becoming a Class 3A power, ultimately winning four state championships in five years. The first came in March 2015. In December of that year, Cheryl suffered a catastrophic stroke at a theater in Normal, just as a Julia Roberts movie was to begin.
“I knew what was happening because she had a small stroke some years before,” Kindred said. “We went to the hospital and it was life or death for two or three days.
“When it was clear that she was going to live, still unconscious, I sent a note to Bob Becker, the Morton coach. I think I was supposed to go to a game and I told him I couldn’t be there and I told him why.”
What happened next warmed Kindred’s heart. About a half hour after notifying Becker, he began receiving text messages from the Morton players. First Chandler Ryan, then Brandi Bisping, then their teammates.
“And each of the texts was announced on my phone by harp music,” Kindred said. “I counted it as the sound of angels speaking to me. I asked Chandler Ryan once how that happened. She was a senior, the leader of that team. I suspect she told all the girls that they needed to speak to me. They all did and it meant a lot to me.”
Cheryl did not recover. An invalid and unable to communicate, she was in a Morton nursing home for five and a half years until her death in 2021.
And the harp sound?
“I think you can choose a sound (on the phone), but I don’t remember choosing it,” Kindred said. “I just remember that the first time I ever heard it, I heard it one right after another. Like every 30 seconds, there was harp music playing.
“The symbolism of that, and the idea people would care enough to even call me or send a text, that wouldn’t have happened when I was covering the Washington Redskins or the Washington Bullets or the Atlanta Braves. It doesn’t happen at that level. But at this kind of community level, small-town level, human level, it meant a lot to me then and a lot to me now.”
In the interest of full disclosure, Kindred is my third cousin. His sister, Sandy Litwiller of Morton, did the research on that recently. We share a last name, a hometown and lives spent writing about sports. He just did it better and on a much larger scale.
He is one of two writers to earn the sportswriter triple crown: the Red Smith Award, the PEN America ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing, and the Dan Jenkins Medal for Excellence in Sportswriting.
The author of numerous books, he is a member of the National Sports Media Hall of Fame.
With a resume like that, it would seem you’ve seen everything sports can offer. Yet, it took coming home after 45 years of covering the biggest names/events in sports – Muhammad Ali, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Super Bowls, Olympics, the World Series, the Masters, etc. – for the former Atlanta High School point guard and Illinois Wesleyan infielder to find “a community.”
Sure, there were friends on the sportswriter circuit. In the heyday of newspapers, which sadly has passed, he would see the same columnists at major events. They beat deadlines, created masterpieces, talked shop and had a drink now and then.
The Lady Potters provided a deeper connection. Kindred said while Cheryl was in the nursing home, Morton girls basketball “gave me a life. It gave me friends, gave me a community that I really had never had and probably would never have had except they all knew what was happening in my life and they wanted to help me through that.”
Kindred also endured the deaths of his mother and 25-year-old grandson after moving to rural Carlock. The Lady Potters gave a writer something to write, a much-needed release.
His book is divided into three acts, with Act One chronicling his career as a sportswriter. Act Two is about the return to Illinois, his life with Cheryl and the “redemptive power” of the Lady Potters. Act Three, he writes, “is a mystery waiting to be solved.”
This much he knows: writing about the Lady Potters will continue for a 14th year and, likely, beyond.
“I’m looking forward to this season,” he said. “I have no plans to quit doing it until something happens that tells me I’m just too old to do it. I’ve been the girls’ grandfather. Maybe I’m on the way to being their great grandfather and maybe that’s time to quit. We’ll find out.
“It (writing) is what I’ve done forever. If I quit, what would I do? I know I can spell and type, so I will keep doing that.”
The book is available at area bookstores and online at Amazon.com. You’ll laugh out loud, cry, laugh again and, in the end, wipe away tears. It is worth every penny.