Watson Spoelstra has been called a player, a writer and a visionary. He earned his living as a sports writer in Detroit, employed by the Detroit News as one of their sports reporters focusing largely on baseball, covering the Detroit Tigers games, for most of his career. Following graduation from college he had planned to become a teacher, and actually taught for a while. But he could not find his niche in teaching, and then applied for a sports writing job with the Associated Press in Detroit as a sports writer. He was hired and would devote the remainder of his working life as a sports writer and reporter.
In 2011, 12 years following his death his name arose again in the national sports arena, because the press quickly discovered that he was the originator, or father of a sports dynasty. Watson’s son, Jon Watson had become a basketball executive working for a number of professional basket ball franchises including the Portland Trailblazers, the Nets and the Denver Nuggets.
It was not Jon Spoelstra’s involvement in the sports world that ignited the interest in the Spoelstras. It was Jon’s son, Erik Spoelstra, who drew all the attention of the media in the spring of 2011. Erik had been appointed the coach of the Miami Heat in 2008. Following his appointment he developed and built the team into a contender. In the 2011 playoffs the Miami Heat rose through the playoffs to the finals, and contended with the Dallas Mavericks for the title. At that point the sports writers learned that a sports dynasty within the Spoelstra family had emerged. The originator of the dynasty was Watson Spoelstra, the grandfather of Erik Spoelstra.
Watson Spoelstra was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1910. His family was Dutch American from both his father’s and mother’s side. Following his birth the family moved to Holland, Michigan, a truly Dutch American city. Unfortunately he lost his father when he was only five years old. His mother raised him and his siblings, but apparently their financial situation was difficult in his early life. As a high school student and later as a student at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, he was active and successful in both basketball and baseball.
During his college career he became the first Hope College student to be awarded the All Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association sports award. He also became Hope College’s all time leading scorer in basketball during his college years. Spoelstra graduated from Hope College in 1932, and was awarded Hope College’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990. During his college years he also was the sports reporter for the Sentinel, even reporting on college games in which he participated himself.
During his years as a sports writer in Detroit he was also a correspondent for the Sporting News, producing a sports article for nearly each edition of the weekly. In 1968, he was honored for his reporting by his peers. He was elected to be the president of the Baseball Writers Association of America. In that capacity he presided over the induction of the 1968 class of Hall of Fame inductees at Cooperstown, New York.
While working in Detroit Watson met Jean Murphy, an Irish Catholic. Their marriage produced two children, a son and a daughter. The son was Jon Spoelstra, who would become a basketball executive and the father of Erik Spoelstra, the Miami Heat coach. The daughter was Ann Kimberley who had a near death experience which affected Watson to a considerable degree as will be discussed below.
The near death of Watson’s daughter caused him to become more religious. He had been raised in the conservative Dutch Reformed religion. As an adult he had given up on religion and was not involved in religion at all. His daughter’s near death made him realize the value of spiritual support and he decided to do something about the spiritual needs of the professional baseball community. He became the founder of what is known to this day as Baseball Chapel. It is an organization of players who have instituted to have a religious observance on Sunday morning for those who are interested to participate. The idea caught on and is apparently still operational today for those who want to participate.
Watson Spoelstra remained at the Detroit News until the early 1970’s after having been a sportd reporter for the News for 30 years. Since he was then still relatively young he decided to devote the remainder of his life to the Baseball Chapel idea. Spoelstra’s wife Jean passed away in 1998. They had been married for 59 years. The loss of her life was difficult for Watson. Watson survived for another year and passed away in 1999 at the ripe old age of 89 years. He had had a satisfying and productive life. He would be thrilled to be alive today and observe the success in sports of his two descendants, his son Jon and his grandson Erik Spoelstra, the coach of the Miami Heat.
Spoelstra Raised to Be in N.B.A., and Rising to Challenge with the Heat, The New York Times, Sunday May 29, 2011, page 1, Sports Sunday section
Watson Spoelstra [1910-1999], World Journalism Institute, by Benjamin Hoak,http://www.worldji.com/resources/view/45
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