Tom Kelly moved to Bainbridge Island in 1989 as a sports reporter for the Seattle Times.
It was high time for sports reporting around then. Ken Griffey Jr. was cracking a bat for the Mariners, and Seahawks wide-reciever Steve Largent retired the same year.
But as a Bainbridge Islander and on the high school sports beat, it was the small-town energy that stuck with Kelly.
“It’s a pure form of athleticism,” said Kelly. “There are no big ticket contracts. It’s what athletics should be.”
And it is this energy that sets the tone of his new book, “Cold Crossover,” a Northwestern mystery about a high school basketball star who goes missing.
The story of retired coach Ernie Creekmore and his leading player, Linnbert “Cheese” Oliver, is set in the small community of “North Fork” where high school sports and big games are the talk of the town. It is reminiscent of the movies Hoosiers and Friday Night Lights, but with a mystery twist.
Five years earlier, Cheese and Creekmore are in the state finals. And Cheese, who up until this game is the promising athlete of North Fork, suddenly becomes the kid who missed the final shot in the last seconds of the game.
He never lives it down.
“It is long-lasting, life-changing for kids from small communities,” Kelly explained. “Most of America has that feeling for a state tournament. That’s kind of what this is about. That’s why this kid is memorable.”
Amidst his infamous missed shot, Cheese is also the grandson of one of the founding citizens of North Fork. His blood runs thick within the community and as he transforms into a has-been, his shame runs deep too.
On the same hand, Creekmore is like a father to Cheese and blames himself for the game-losing play. In the five years since the shot, Creekmore also loses his wife, retires from coaching and is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
But Creekmore is given renewed purpose when word gets around to him that Cheese’s car was found abandoned on the Bremerton ferry. He must find out what happened to Cheese.
“Cold Crossover” is a composite of memories and the real life tendencies of small town western Washington.
It describes the many coaches Kelly encountered as a sports reporter in the character of Creekmore. It brings out the Western Washington’s lumber mill history in Cheese’s family background. Real estate and geography are drawn from Kelly’s extensive experience as also a real estate reporter, columnist and editor.
The state tournament game that Kelly illustrates in his book comes from memories watching his first 3A tournament after moving from big city Santa Monica, Calif. to Bainbridge Island and as the father of four BHS Spartan athletes.
Even the disappearance of Cheese recalls a memory of Kelly’s first six months living in the Seattle area.
After games, coaches and sports writers frequented a Queen Anne tavern that served beer and pizza. It was a place that gave Kelly and his colleagues a chance to talk to coaches. While at the bar one night, Kelly found out that the owner was also a referee, and that referee had gone missing.
It was later determined that the owner/referee had committed suicide on a late-night ferry.
The idea of the ferry being someone’s way out stuck with Kelly, who had just moved to a ferry commuting town.
In “Cold Crossover,” Kelly brings together sports, mystery, Northwestern history, geography and real estate in a story that anyone can relate to. It is his first fiction novel and is the first of a four-, possibly five-book series that chronicles the adventures of coach Ernie Creekmore.
Kelly has lived on Bainbridge for 24 years. He writes a nationally syndicated column and has authored six books on real estate, and he hosts a real estate segment on KIRO-FM.
He will be reading from his book and signing copies at 3 p.m. this Sunday, Feb. 24 at Eagle Harbor Books.