Gerald Caveness was a legend on the basketball court.
Over a 29-year career, he amassed records that may never be broken, including a string of five consecutive state championships. For generations of basketball players and fans, he was known simply as “Coach”, but author Jerri Hines has a much different name for the legend – “Dad”.
Hines, an accomplished author with more than 20 books to her credit, reflects on the life, career, and lessons of her legendary father in her new book “The Measure of a Man”.
The writer took a fictional approach to tell her father’s story. In her new novel, a small-town coach guides a pair of teenage brothers and a team of determined youngsters to an unprecedented state title. While the story is fictional it is based entirely on the real-life story of the coach who raised the bar for basketball in Northeast Mississippi while mentoring and guiding his players on the road to success.
“I had the facts, but it didn’t really tell you the kind of person he was nor did it reflect on the players or the community really. I wanted the heart of the community to come out of it, the heart of the boys and how important a mentor is in the life of a child,” said the daughter and author.
Those facts she began with are the stuff of basketball mythology. Caveness began his career at New Site in 1960 and created a dynasty. Between 1965 and 1969 the New Site Royals would claim five straight state championships along with 45 straight district, north half and state tournament wins. In 1969 Caveness coached the school to an astonishing small school win in the state’s Grand Slam tournament pitting the champions from each division against each other for the ultimate title.
Over his career, which took him from Corinth to Laurel, to New Site, and later to Booneville and Alcorn Central, he amassed an 80 percent winning record and never had a losing season. Caveness died in 1990 at the age of 57.
Hines said she’s long felt a desire to share her father’s story – not just his accomplishments but who he was.
“I just had that need so that it would be remembered. I wanted something positive to come out and be remembered about where I grew up,” she said.
The fictional story gave her the ability to truly depict who he was through the eyes of her main characters who represent composites of the numerous former players she’s talked with through the years. With more than 20 novels published in her usual genre of romantic fiction, the Boston area resident said she turned to fiction to put her skills to use in telling her father’s story.
“I just found it easier to have that freedom to be able to reflect the struggle that kids go through when they’re at that age. I write fiction, so it just gave me the license to write what I felt,” she said.
Hines, one of four children along with brother Gary Caveness of Corinth, Greg Caveness of Marietta, and sister Laura McElroy of Booneville, said her dad was very much the same on and off the court.
“I don’t think he would be much different as a coach than he was as a father,” she said.
He set high standards and expected his kids and players to rise to the challenge, but he was always there to support and encourage.
“He didn’t want anything given to you. He wanted you to work for whatever you got. He was always there for you if you needed him, but he wanted you to be able to stand on your own,” she said.
She said one of her father’s greatest strengths was his ability to read people understand what they needed.
“He had a knack about knowing you and I think he did that same thing in basketball. He could like right through me and just know,” she recalled.
His focus and determination came through in everything he did. She recalls long nights as he sat at a kitchen table covered in strategies and scouting reports as he prepared for his games.
“He had to be the most prepared coach in the state. He would figure out a way to win. He had a remarkable ability. He understood basketball and he got the best out of his players,” she said.
Hines wants her story to bring that determination and love to life and for people to understand how important it is for young people to have someone who cares.
“Even if you’re not from Northeast Mississippi, you can feel that. Sometimes just doing one thing when you reach out to a child, it can make a world of difference. You can make them turn that corner and keep on that straight and narrow when they feel like nobody cares,” she said.
She believes her father would be happy to see his story told this way.
“This one I think he would like. I think he would be kind of embarrassed that somebody wrote about him, but I think he would like the story that was told. I think he made such a big difference in so many peoples’ lives and that was the whole theme of my book. One of the things dad kept saying was ‘you don’t have to be the best, you just have to do your best’,” she said.
She’s extremely grateful to everyone who helped her with her research through the project and to her brother, Gary, for helping her connect by phone with many of her father’s former players.
“They were really generous with their time and with their memories,” she said.
Her father’s story is continuing to make a difference through the publication of the new book. All proceeds from the project will go to support Corinth’s Lighthouse Foundation, the ministry led by her brother, Gary which helps youth through mentoring and support.
“What he does there is just so special,” said Hines.
(The Measure of a Man is available through most major booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)