By Juliann Skarda
Award-winning journalist Frank Deford speaks about the Live Like Line segment to air on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” The story will feature the life of former volleyball setter Caroline Found, as well as the team’s triumph in loss and State Championship in their 2011-12 season.
WSS: You were the one who suggested the idea of featuring Caroline Found and the volleyball team. How did you come across this idea?
Deford: It was very simple. Coach Bresnahan contacted me. She wrote me … a very articulate, touching letter. I worked for Sports Illustrated for many years and I still do the occasional piece. It was such a compelling story about Caroline so my only question was ‘Do I do this for Sports Illustrated or do I do it for HBO?’ … Coach Bresnahan told the story in such wonderful detail and with such feeling that I decided that it would be better as a TV story. She deserves the credit, but I took the story to HBO and they said they’d very much like to do it.
WSS: What about this story makes it a good candidate for a story on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel?”
Deford: Sadly, there are stories like this that happen all too often; they are all very touching and very sad as well as similar. What separated this was that Caroline obviously was such a special person … It was clear she was truly a wonderful person. And the fact that the team came back and won the championship after losing her and not being expected to win even with her had she lived, that made it very special as well. And finally, the saddest element of all was that it was not only Caroline who died, but also her mother. So all those ingredients made it a more tragic story , but it also did have the victory at the end which gives it such uplift. It doesn’t make it a happy story, and it doesn’t even make it a bittersweet story. Death is too great in comparison to winning, but nonetheless it did set it apart and made it so very, very touching … Also, the fact that Caroline and her story were so touching and that she was a girl athlete as opposed to a boy athlete [set it apart]. We’re so used to boys being the heroes in sports. This was the story about a girl athlete who touched so many lives – that added one more positive ingredient to it.
WSS: Would you say there were any highlights in your interviews with Ernie Found or Kathy Bresnahan that really stood out to you?
Deford: Both Ernie and Coach Bres were terrific interviews. I think particularly for Ernie to be able to talk at all about this terrible double tragedy in his life was exceptional. I lost a daughter myself once many years ago. My daughter Alex died of Cystic Fibrosis in 1980, but nonetheless, because I went through that experience, I perhaps could understand Ernie and what he was going through … I was so moved by how he could talk about this so well. Coach Bres was the same way—both of them were so articulate and loving in discussing Caroline, not to mention her friends and teammates. Everybody we spoke to spoke so well. That makes a huge difference in a story. As touching as this story is, it’s television and you have to see the story told. Everybody was especially touching in talking about Caroline.
WSS: What message do you hope that viewers will take away from the story?
Deford: Actually, I’m not so sure there is a message. We know how tragic this is. Every time anybody young dies, it’s a horrible, horrible thing so I don’t think we’ve learned anything by this except that Caroline was such an amazing person that her death was able to bring so many people together. In many respects, it’s more than a message. It’s a celebration of who she was and what she meant. This is a celebration of a wonderful young person’s life.
WSS: How do you think the story will impact its audience?
Deford: When a community comes together, it means something to us, so the response of Iowa City and the volleyball community and the whole community was very powerful. America, the people who see this, will be taken by that in a very good way. It’s a wonderful tribute not only to Caroline, but to the whole community.