I’ve known Don Shelby for 32 years, ever since I went to WCCO-TV as a reporter in 1979. In that time, we’ve worked on stories together, paddled canoes in the Boundary Waters, rode horses in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and suffered and celebrated each other’s trials, troubles and triumphs. We’ve been higher than kites and down on our knees gasping for air.
But until recently, I never understood the depth of Shelby’s passion for basketball. Then I read his book of short stories about the game and the lessons he claims it taught. The Season Never Ends is a fitting first book for an old television anchorman who’s won about every journalistic award in the business.
This Saturday, Shelby will bring his book and his game to the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex for the matchups between the defending MIAC champion St. Thomas basketball teams and the Augsburg Auggies (the women’s game starts at 1 p.m. and the men’s at 3 p.m.). He’ll be the guest public address announcer for both games and will be available to sign his book – or sell one – in the lobby between and after the games.
Shelby grew up in Indiana, so his love of the game is predictable. He led his high school team to the 1965 Delaware County championship. He coached his daughters’ teams for seven years and he played on a 35-and-over men’s team in the Twin Cities.
As a ballplayer, Shelby describes himself this way: “I wasn’t bad. Had a nice outside shot and led the team in assists (he was a point guard). Still hold a record for most field goals made in a final tournament in the county tourney record books. I wasn’t the best guy in the conference. I wasn’t even the best guy on my team.”
However, my old friend is probably the best short story writer on his old team. His collection of stories, edited by his daughter Ashley, is crisp and colorful, intimate and insightful, and often personal and poignant.
One of his stories is about his mother, Lacy, his greatest fan and a persistent and insistent force at all his home games. Lacy could make a referee’s life difficult, especially if he called her beloved son for travelling, which he was more than occasionally inclined to do.
When Lacy died, folks were invited to get up and talk at her funeral. One old man went to the microphone and said he was one of the referees at whom she had shouted. He said he always feared going into the gym, looking around and finding her in the stands. One time he even offered her his whistle and told her she should call the game if she thought she could do a better job. She declined.
“Then the old man stepped down from the pulpit and walked to Mom’s urn on the table,” Shelby writes. “He reached inside his overcoat collar and pulled out the lanyard and whistle around his neck and put it on the table with all her treasured mementos. And I heard him say, ‘Call a fair game, Lacy.’ ”
I questioned Shelby about that and he swears, hand on his heart, that is exactly what happened. You can ask him yourself on Saturday afternoon. But do be gentle with the boy. He’s shy in a crowd and hates to be the center of attention.