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Lefty's Corner: a look at a childhood

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Dennie Bridges spent countless hours as a youngster batting rocks from the gravel driveway in the alley that led to his parents' garage in the rural Central Illinois town of Anchor.

It was a way of life for Bridges while growing up in the eastern McLean County community of 140 people in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s. Life was far less complicated than it is today.

Bridges, now 67 and the athletics director at Illinois Wesleyan University, has an appreciation for those childhood days and brings them to light in his recently released 160-page book "Kids Don't Bat Rocks Anymore."

The book is filled with true stories about a kid named Luke (Bridges) growing up in a small town 30 miles east of Bloomington-Normal.

"Originally, the main character didn't have a name," said Bridges. "But it troubled me to have all the "I's" in the book, so I came up with a name. Luke just sounded like a small-town name. I wasn't hiding behind Luke. There were a lot of Lukes growing up in that era."

The book is the second writing effort by Bridges, who penned "A Dunk Only Counts Two Points" in 2002.

"I guess writing has sort of become a hobby for me," added Bridges. "I wanted to write another book. The 'Dunk' book probably gave me a little confidence that I could do it again. It was fun, but I definitely recognize my limitations.

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"I'm not talented enough to write a novel. I think what I am is a storyteller on paper. That was all I did in my first book was tell stories. I just started writing down thoughts and memories not knowing if there would be enough for a book. The chapters just started building up."

Bridges admits he isn't quite as confident in his audience for this book as he was for the "Dunk" book.

"The audience for the first book was basketball fans," said Bridges, who retired as IWU basketball coach in 2001 after 36 seasons with a career record of 667-319. "They had every reason to believe I knew something about basketball.

"I guess the biggest question would be, 'Is there an audience out there that has an interest in what the lives of kids of that era were like?' Our town wasn't Mayberry. There were no Barney Fifes, but there were plenty of Aunt Bees."

All proceeds from the book, which costs $10, will be donated to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

"My goal is to make $10,000 for the Parkinson's Foundation," said Bridges, who donated a little more than $20,000 to the Jack Horenberger Scholarship Fund at IWU from the sale of his first book.

"The 'Dunk' book was sort of a tribute to Coach Horenberger," added Bridges. "It's a good thing when I can use my hobby for good causes."

Bridges didn't necessarily have a charity in mind when he began writing his latest book 15 months ago.

"Then one night I was running through the TV channels and happened on to an interview with Michael J. Fox," Bridges continued. "I was so impressed and moved by how committed he was to finding a cure for Parkinson's and how it was affecting him.

"I contacted the people at the Michael J. Fox Foundation and they were very supportive. They gave me permission to use their logo and I promised them all profits of the book."

Bridges has never had a family member affected by Parkinson's, but he said in talking with people since he adopted the disease as the cause for his book, "it's amazing how many people have told me about someone in there life who has been affected by Parkinson's."

The paperback book is available at the IWU Bookstore, located in the Hansen Student Center; at the Alamo II Bookstore in Normal; or at the IWU athletics office in the Shirk Center.

It also is available by mail for $12 by sending a check or money order, in care of Bridges, to Shirk Center, 302 East Emerson, Bloomington, IL, 61701.

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