“Mother” to WVU basketball players was a Morgantown legend

March 21, 2014


After leaving West Virginia University as a freshman to play in the pros, basketball player Rod “Hot Rod” Hundley wanted to return and needed a place to stay. Athletic Director Red Brown had to find Hundley housing in order to get him enrolled and game eligible.
Brown ended up placing Hundley with Ann Dinardi, owner of a Morgantown pharmacy, Moore & Parriott, who lived next door to the Field House that accommodated the basketball program.
Thus began a tradition in which Dinardi — a 1931 graduate of the WVU School of Pharmacy — took in not only Hundley, but also a who’s who of WVU basketball players that also included Jerry West, Willie Akers and dozens more. She gave them not only a roof over their heads and food to eat, but also the motherly guidance that many of the men credit with shepherding them to outstanding careers in the NBA as well as successful lives.
“She was a major character,” said Sharon Lee, a Morgantown native who now lives in the Los Angeles area. “My father used to call her ‘the maitre d’ of Morgantown,’ because she knew everyone. Going into Moore & Parriott was similar to going into ‘Cheers,’ and she was the Sam Malone.”
Like the fictional Sam Malone from the long-running NBC TV series, Dinardi’s story might be turned into a celluloid production, albeit one for the big screen.
Lee and her producing partner, Teri Fettis D’Ovidio, have traveled to West Virginia this week to drum up support for a film that has the working title of “Hurricane Ann,” which they liken to a feel-good “The Blind Side” meets “Hoosiers” type of project.
“What our movie is about is (Brown) goes to Ann Dinardi and asks if she knows anybody who would be willing to take this boy on a short-term basis so he can enroll in class, and it was the future of the WVU basketball team,” Lee said.
Hundley and West went on to play for the Los Angeles Lakers under coach Fred Schaus, who also had helmed the WVU team while they were there. West also co-captained the 1960 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team and eventually served as the Lakers’ general manager, signing both Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal.
According to Lee, both men credit Dinardi’s help and maternal love for how well they ended up doing in life. The film primarily would focus on Dinardi’s involvement with Hundley, who is participating in the film.
Hundley, Lee said, “had a really rough-and-tumble life,” she said. “He was a street urchin. It wasn’t that he was a bad kid. No one ever taught him how to be a part of anything.”
That is, until Dinardi took him in.
“Ann Dinardi learned how to be something she never had been, a mother,” Lee said. “And Rod Hundley learned something he never had before, how to be a son. This started a whole dynasty of her taking in boys.”
Willie Akers, a teammate of Hundley and West, was one of those boys.
“She was like a mother to all of us guys,” Akers said in a telephone interview from Charleston.
He remembers one time during the summer, 15 young men were staying at Dinardi’s home, and they got into a water battle, dousing the home with the liquid.
“She came home, and we told her we had done some cleaning,” he said. “We never told her it was a water battle. That was the kind of house it was. It was for the kids and the players. She didn’t worry about her house.”
Many players respected her so much that they traveled to the Lakeview Golf Resort & Spa in Morgantown in August 1996 for a party held in honor of Dinardi’s impending 90th birthday. The players, who included Hundley, West and Akers, all wore T-shirts bearing Dinardi’s likeness and posed for a group photo.
She died seven years later, in 2003, at the age of 97.
“These guys came in secretly under the radar,” said Connie Merandi of Morgantown, a great-niece of Dinardi, who had been a sister of Merandi’s grandmother, Julia Chico. “They came in for this and then they left.”
Merandi corroborates Lee’s depiction of Dinardi as a well-liked woman who was known to everyone in the community.
“She lived on Beechurst, and she would be walking to the pharmacy in the morning and a garbage truck would go by, and the driver would say, ‘Ann, want a ride?’ and she would grab on. Or it could be the school bus. People came to her aid.”
Both Akers and Merandi expressed appreciation that Dinardi’s story might be made into a film.
“It is the delight of our lives,” Merandi said. “We have loved and cherished this story, her compassion and love, and the love that people gave back to her. She touched so many lives.”
Lee described Dinardi as “Kathy Bates on the outside and Bette Midler on the inside.” However, both of the actresses are too old to play Dinardi, who would have been in her 40s as the “Hurricane Ann” story was unfolding.
Instead, Lee’s first choice to play Dinardi would be Melissa McCarthy, the comedic actress who has hit it big recently in films such as “Bridesmaids” and “The Heat.”
“No one is cast,” Lee added. “We can’t put out offers until we know we have a budget. But right now the script is with Melissa McCarthy’s manager.”
Lee believes the film can be made for $5 million, noting that some of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Picture, including “Dallas Buyers Club,” came in at around that sum. The idea would be to make the film independently as well.
“Once a studio becomes involved, we cannot guarantee Ann Dinardi’s legacy,” Lee said.
Lee has been in touch with Pam Haynes, director of the West Virginia Film Office, part of the state Department of Commerce through the Division of Tourism.
However, Haynes has not been able to provide much help yet.
“It hasn’t reached that level,” Haynes said. “I believe they are still in the fundraising mode of finding investors. What happens is the film office wouldn’t scout locations until they are considered a green-lighted production.”
The producers would like to film in West Virginia, with perhaps Wheeling standing in for 1950s Morgantown. Tax credits that have been in place since 2007 make that scenario more feasible. The West Virginia Film Industry Act of 2007 gives film productions tax credits if certain guidelines are met. Because out-of-state productions would not owe West Virginia tax, the credits can be transferred to another business that would purchase them in order to lower a tax obligation.
The law was passed after the 2006 film “We Are Marshall,” about the football team plane crash, shot only a few scenes in Huntington because of a lack of tax credits. The 2011 film “Super 8,” written and directed by J.J. Abrams and shot in Weirton, is Haynes’ shining example of the legislation’s success.
“Paramount spent $14 million in West Virginia during the production of ‘Super 8,’ and of that spend, they received $4.6 million in tax credits,” Haynes said.
If fundraising goes well, Lee hopes pre-production would take place during the summer, with filming to begin in fall.
Lee has a young Ohio actor in mind to play Hundley. When asked if he had considered who might play him, Akers said he did not.
“I’d just be happy to be part of it.”