In another life, Dave Kindred would have been winding down after covering the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl. February for Mr. Big-Time sports columnist usually meant getting prepped for the NCAA tournament with a column on the Duke-North Carolina game. Or perhaps depending on the year, he would be off to a far-away frozen location to report on the Winter Olympics.
However, in his current life, Kindred spent last Friday sitting on wooden bleachers at a girls high school basketball game in Central Illinois. With notebook in hand, he closely monitored and dutifully filed his report on the Morton Potters taking a 47-40 victory over Limestone.
“Canton and Washington are coming up,” said Kindred, full of anticipation on Morton’s next opponents.
Professional fulfillment comes in many forms during a person’s career. For Kindred, one of the most accomplished sportswriters of his generation, nothing now makes him feel more fulfilled than chronicling the exploits of the girls basketball team from Morton High School, located near Peoria, Ill.
“I wrote about the ‘Dream Team’ in Barcelona (at the ’92 Olympics),” Kindred said. “What gives me the bigger thrill? Put it this way: I truly like this. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t like it.”
Kindred, member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame and a recipient of the Red Smith Award for lifetime achievement in sports journalism, estimates he has written more than 150,000 words on the Potters since the winter of 2010. The man who once wrote columns for the Washington Post, Louisville Courier-Journal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The National posts his stories on the Morton girls site and his Facebook page.
Kindred has missed only one of their games in person during that time, and he didn’t like it. Let the record show he still watched that game on his Blackberry in his hotel room in Las Vegas.
“I’m on assignment to talk to a Hall of Fame coach (Jerry Tarkanian) and I’m worried I’m going to miss a Morton girls high school basketball game,” Kindred said.
Kindred’s priorities shifted when he and his wife, Cheryl, moved back to their native Central Illinois in 2010. He started to attend some Morton games because a friend’s daughter played on the team. Soon he was hooked and began writing stories off their games.
Award-winning reporter Dave Kindred, with his pad and pen, is a fixture at Morton High School girls basketball games. (Photo by Dave Byrne)
Kindred isn’t retired. He still works as a contributor for Golf Digest and recently had a short stint with Sports on Earth before that site changed directions. He also is working on a book.
However, the bulk of Kindred’s writing now is on the Morton girls. It says something about his commitment that his per-game fee comes in the form of one box of Milk Duds for him and Junior Mints for his wife.
“I like that the games are 1 hour, 15 minutes,” Kindred said. “There’s no Katy Perry at halftime, no commercials. That’s all I’ve wanted from every sporting event I’ve ever covered. The girls just give you the game.”
Of course, there’s more. Kindred is captivated by the girls effort on the floor. He says watching them play is a reminder of what attracted him to sports in the first place. There’s something to be said about the purity of simply playing hard without having millions of dollars on the line.
Kindred repays the girls by taking the same dogged approach with his posts.
“I’ve never found this beneath me,” Kindred said. “I don’t try any less writing about the girls than I did writing a column for the Washington Post.”
Indeed, the writing still shines. Kindred’s posts are more from a columnist’s perspective than a typical game story. While he doesn’t criticize Morton’s players, a recent game showed he will throw a dart when warranted. Kindred objected to East Peoria, hopelessly behind in the fourth quarter, lengthening the game with needless and sometimes hard fouls.
Kindred wrote: “You can’t spell class without a-s-s and East Peoria proved it tonight.”
“Class still matters to me,” Kindred explained. “I was just as mad about that game as when I saw John Thompson’s teams beating up people at Georgetown.”
Morton coach Bob Becker and virtually everyone associated with the team initially weren’t aware that Kindred used to write about Georgetown for the Post. Or that he once did an interview with Muhammad Ali under the covers of his bed in a crowded hotel room and later wrote a book about the legendary boxer.
“When I found out more about him, it was intimidating at first,” Becker said. “He’s been around all these big-time players and coaches. Here I am, just a small-time girls high school coach. But he’s been great. Honestly, it’s amazing that a guy of his stature has fallen into our lap.”
Actually, it is Kindred who feels blessed. He started his career covering high school sports for the Bloomington Pantagraph in the ‘60s. He called coordinating the desk on busy high school game nights “the hardest thing I ever did.”
Now Kindred says he has “come full circle.” He believes his Morton experience carries some important lessons for sportswriters like him who have seen it all.
“You get so caught up in the hoopla of a major sports event, you forget what matters,” Kindred said. “One of my theories is 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. There’s something in every game worth writing about. I think there’s much to be said about that.”
Kindred hopes to generate some compelling stories from Morton’s biggest games of the year. The Potters are 25-3, but he says the road will be tough for the upcoming Illinois state girls high school tournament.
Kindred was in the midst of giving a rundown of Morton’s chances when he came to another realization just how much his sports mindset has changed.
“You know, I know more about girls high school basketball than I do about the NBA or the NFL,” Kindred said. “I’m happy about that.”
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Ed Sherman writes about sports media at shermanreport.com. Follow him @Sherman_Report. Read more