Circling Home: Girls' Basketball Rekindles an Old Love

Dave Kindred with members of the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team. (ESPN)

Dave Kindred with members of the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team. (ESPN)

Is knowing Dave Kindred and admiring him and his sportswriting, as I do, what drew me to read this story? Perhaps. But if my curiosity about what Dave's doing these days wasn't my primary reason, then the headline would have pulled me in. 

Legendary sportswriter returns to roots by covering local girls' basketball

In an extraordinary career covering just about every major sports event there is to cover, Dave was awarded sports journalism's highest honor, the Red Smith Award. He's a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. Then, in 2010, he retired, and he and his wife circled back to where they'd grown up in rural Illinois, and there he's become the beat reporter covering the Morton High School Lady Potters basketball team. (His stories are in this blog on the team's website.) He receives no pay but the "job" comes with lots of spirit-reviving benefits.

Dave sits alone two rows behind the Lady Potter bench in mud-splattered hiking boots, blue jeans and a green Masters Tournament wind breaker. What’s left of his thinning gray hair sprays out from beneath a red 2017 Masters ball cap, the bill shading trained eyes that follow the ball up and down the court through wire-rimmed spectacles and occasionally glance down to scribble a basket or name or note in his handheld notebook.
— Story by Tony Rehagen, ESPNW

After reading Tony's story about Dave, I had to share it – in part because so few high school women's basketball teams receive any news coverage at all. With Dave writing their games, these young women have one of the most accomplished scribes. In writing about this girls' team, Dave is finding renewed joy in life as he copes with his wife's devastating illness.

Before I tell you more about Dave's life today, here's a bit about his career. He was "a columnist for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionThe National Sports DailySporting News, and Golf Digest. He has written nine books. For "Around the World in 18 Holes," he flew 37,319 miles to 21 countries on four continents with his sports-writing pal, Tom Callahan. (I reported the 1984 Summer Olympics with Tom who wrote sports for Time magazine and I was a correspondent. From those Games, here's my story about Carl Lewis, who tied Jesse Owens' track and field record by winning four gold medals in those games.)

Despite the Lady Potters winning three Illinois High School Association Class 3A State Championships, as the smallest Illinois town (population 16,000) to ever win a 3A title in any sport, few people show up to watch these girls play.

The Lady Potters 2018 team, from the Morton basketball website

The Lady Potters 2018 team, from the Morton basketball website


Let's pick up Tony's narrative about the Lady Potters:

Few patrons take advantage of the hefty return on the free admission. The cozy Potterdome bleachers are only half-full on this frigid December Friday, and many of those parents and students have trickled in midway through this opening act to get good seats for the main event: The Potter varsity boys, whose lone banner is an Elite 8 showing back in 2011. The cheerleaders who bounce out onto the hardwood to try to keep folks engaged during intermissions are working their first Lady Potters game this year, as is the dance squad that will perform at halftime — of the boys’ game.

But the girls have one thing — besides the monopoly on space in the trophy case out front — that the boys don’t; something that really any team in any sport, male or female, amateur or professional, would be lucky to have: David Kindred. He’s not a player’s parent or grandparent, uncle or cousin. He’s not a teacher or administrator; not a coach or scout. He’s not technically even a reporter. In fact, few outside of the tight-knit Lady Potters community know his name — and most of them don’t fully grasp who he is, and even they don’t understand why he is here.
— Story by Tony Rehagen, ESPNW

Early on in Tony's story we learn that Cheryl, his life partner and Dave's high school sweetheart and wife of 55 years, suffered a catastrophic stroke in Dec. 2015. Each day Dave spends time at her bedside, though she remains unresponsive to his visits. One day soon after her stroke a visitor suggested to Dave that he step away from her bedside for a little while and go to back to watching the girls play basketball. He and Cheryl had gone to their games and Dave had begun to write about them. He's not missed one of their games since that day.

What he saw was simplicity. “There was nothing bad about it,” he says. “Everything was good. I didn’t care about the experience or the spectacle. I just watched the game. This is pure — it’s such a cliché — but these games are for the kids.” And why the girls? Sure, there’s the tired answer that the girls game is more rooted in the fundamentals. But Kindred’s answer goes deeper, back to a scene in his sister’s kitchen where his sister, Cheryl, a family friend, and her 12-year-old daughter, Carly, were talking about cheerleading. All three of the women had stood on the sidelines, waving their pompoms. Kindred wondered if Carly wanted to follow suit.

”No,” she said. “I’m going to be the one they cheer for.”

”She had me at ‘no,’” Kindred says.
— Story by Ton Rehagen, ESPNW

Years after my sportswriting career had ended and I was the editor of Nieman Reports, a magazine about journalism published by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, I reached out to Dave to ask him to write about sportswriting in the time of social media. I commend his story to you for in so many ways it is the anthesis of the kind of sports writing he's delighting in being able to do today.

As Dave told Peoria Public Radio in a story called "Dave Kindred's Search for the 'Essence of Sports,' he observed: “You get so caught up in the hoopla of a major sports event, you forget what matters . . . If you pay attention, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. If you work at it, you can make a girls’ high school basketball game as riveting as the Super Bowl.”

In that same collection of stories Marie Hardin wrote a story I titled "A Shrinking Sports Beat: Women’s Teams, Athletes," reminding us of the tough climb women athletes still face in trying to receive news coverage for their games. As her story made clear,

Women’s sports coverage is shrinking—not growing—even as more women and girls are competing in sports. A recent study of ESPN found that between 1999 and 2009 the time given to coverage of women’s sports on that network’s “SportsCenter” dropped from almost nothing to a bit less than almost nothing—from slightly more than 2 percent to less than 1.5 percent. What’s happened to the coverage of women’s sports during the past few years at newspapers, where there have been dramatic reductions and a reshuffling of staff as well as competitive pressures from bloggers, has not been systematically studied. But I feel safe in contending that women’s coverage hasn’t generally increased.
— Marie Hardin, Nieman Reports, Winter 2010

Need further proof of this downward trajectory, check out this video documentary produced by the University of Minnesota Tucker Center to describe findings from their report on Media Coverage & Female Athletics. A key finding –  "40 % of all athletes are women, but only 4% are represented in the media – and too often how they look is more important than their skills." 

I urge you to read Tony's story about Dave and the Lady Potters. And next time the girls are playing basketball at your local school, head over there. You might be surprised at how much you – and hopefully your kids will be with you – enjoy the show.