Mark Kingston and Tom Walter lead Division I baseball programs, coached at rival universities in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, even played against each other in summer baseball in the early 1990s.
It is a lot of common ground, enough that Kingston — better than most — knows the man making headlines this week.
Walter, in his second season at Wake Forest after five at the University of New Orleans, donated a kidney Monday to Wake Forest freshman outfielder Kevin Jordan.
The selfless act means Jordan no longer will have to spend 18 to 20 hours a day on dialysis. He likely will lead a normal life, maybe even play baseball again.
Kingston, Illinois State’s second-year head coach, hopes he would have something else in common with Walter … i.e., he would do the same for a member of his team.
He would, he told himself Tuesday. But could he be sure?
“I sent Tom an e-mail this morning and I said, ‘Tom, I think we all like to think if we were given this situation we would make the same decision you did, but I don’t think any of us really knows,’ ” Kingston said. “I wanted to commend him for actually going through with it. It’s quite a story.”
Indeed, it is one thing to preach “family” and “commitment” and “sacrifice” on the recruiting trail, in the locker room. It is another to embody the words so publicly, so completely.
Jordan became ill in January 2010, shortly after committing to Wake Forest. He was diagnosed with Anti-Neutrophil Cytoplasmic Autoantibody vasculitis, a rare condition that leads to kidney failure.
He underwent dialysis three times a week in the summer and every day after enrolling at Wake Forest in August. In need of a transplant, family members were tested and no match was found.
Walter, 42, volunteered to be tested in December, and on Jan. 28 learned he was a match. The transplant was performed Monday in Atlanta, Ga.
“Anytime you read a story like that, you’re surprised,” Kingston said. “But Tom always did put an emphasis on taking care of his players.
“I think the real story here is that sometimes as fans or people who follow sports, we all focus so much on wins and losses that we forget these are real human beings with real relationships. It does become like a family. Those are the kind of things that are much bigger than wins and losses.”
Kingston was recruiting coordinator and associate head coach at New Orleans-based Tulane while Walter was head coach at the University of New Orleans. Walter left for Wake Forest in 2009 after UNO, feeling the financial strain from the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina, dropped to Division III.
“They say you judge a man by how he handles adversity. Hurricane Katrina, for any head coach, was as much adversity as you could go through,” Kingston said.
“He kept that program together when his city was under water and his recruits hadn’t even been on campus yet. This is not the first go-round in terms of dealing with adversity for Tom. I would say in both situations he’s shown he’s a man of character.”