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Concerning my father

Chris Hine | Monday, February 25, 2008

My father was the coach of my high school’s basketball team for 33 years, but going into my senior year, the school informed him he would have to “retire” at the end of that season and my dad, not wanting to cause a stir, reluctantly went along.

Thirty-three years of loyalty and dedication meant nothing. The fact that he taught hundreds about basketball and life meant nothing, and the fact that he was the winningest active coach in the state of Pennsylvania meant nothing as well. Parents who had money to throw around took advantage of a .500 season our team had my junior year to say the game had “passed him by” and to push for his firing. Though only a handful of parents wanted him out, it didn’t matter. They had money, and he was gone.

We won over 20 games my senior year, won the district title, lost in double overtime in the state quarterfinals, and my dad was named coach of the year in our conference. Still, he could not return for a 34th season. Aside from my sister’s battle with Hodgkin’s Disease, this was the most difficult time my family has ever faced. It’s hard to give up something you’ve loved doing for 33 years and this isn’t college where coaches make six or seven figures. We depended in part on money my dad brought in from coaching and running clinics.

But through that year, there were two people who helped ease the disappointment our family felt, and oddly enough, they were sports writers. One was Dave Konopki, now the sports editor for “The Times Leader” in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Dave looked into the story of my dad getting fired. He got it, and was ready to print it and put the school in its place. But my dad did not want this story distracting our team in the middle of the season and so Dave didn’t print it.

The other was the now-deceased Jerry Kellar. Kellar had one of the most widely-read columns in the area, and decided to devote a section of his column to my dad and the school, blasting them for firing him.

I’ve never seen my father sadder than during this ordeal, but the care these two writers had for his job made him feel a little better. They may not have completely taken away the pain he felt, but they offered him and the rest of my family temporary solace.

When I began working at The Observer as a sports writer in 2005, I tried to uphold the lessons Dave and Jerry taught me – to keep sports in its proper perspective, have sensitivity for the people you cover, investigate when the circumstances of a situation don’t seem to match, and, most importantly, speak up when something isn’t right.

My old high school did its best to keep the story about my father under wraps because they knew it would be damaging from a public-relations viewpoint. And at an image-conscious institution like Notre Dame, a lot of politicking and behind-the-scenes decision making gets swept under the rug and concealed. But when something does leak or we uncover something, I will do my best to make sure The Observer upholds the lessons I learned from Dave and Jerry. It won’t be easy, and it will be stressful, but it is our duty to do it, because I’ve experienced the effect journalism can have and it is something I won’t take for granted.

Contact Chris Hine at chine@nd.edu