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“I have to tell her story, and I have to tell it here.”

Filmmaker returns home to tell one of Mountaineer History’s Sweetest Stories.

Hot Rod Hundley and family

Ann Dinardi with “Hot Rod” Hundley and family at her house in 1977.

Jerry West, BA, ‘60, Physical Education, went home to the southern mountains of West Virginia one summer between seasons of playing basketball for the Mountaineers. And he didn’t intend to return.

But then the woman who had packed his lunch and taught him loads of swear words sent someone to get him and bring him from Chelyan to Morgantown for the next season.

Ann Dinardi, PhC, ‘31, Pharmaceutical Chemist, did more than keep the future NBA and Olympic champion on track for a glorious future. She gave him and the rest of the team a home, an ear, a talking to, and her heart.

And now a woman who sat at Dinardi’s pharmacy counter on High Street throughout her childhood wants to bring Dinardi’s story to the big screen. Sharon Lee, BFA, ‘74, Design Technology, was born and raised in the South Park area of Morgantown, graduated from the technical theatre program at WVU in 1974 and went on to work in special effects and produce in Los Angeles.

“I remember walking in after school and there would be very tall boys sitting at her counter doing their homework, talking to her, asking her for advice,” Lee said. “So she literally became the mother of the team.”

“If you think about what this feisty woman did, that has affected the history of the NBA, that has affected the golden age of West Virginia basketball.” — Sharon Lee, producer

It started when “Hot Rod” Hundley, RBA, ‘00, aborted an early attempt to go to the pros and asked to come back to the Mountaineers. Athletic Director Red Brown had to find him housing at the very last minute, and his quest was harder since Hundley was not welcomed back to his former residences in town. So Brown asked Ann Dinardi, a pharmacist who ran Moore & Parriott downtown, to take on this boy in her little home on 65 Beechurst Avenue.

Ann Dinardi with Jerry West

Ann Dinardi with Jerry West and Willie Akers in an undated photo. Photos courtesy of the Jerry West Collection.

And then she took on another and another until her little shoe of a house was full with the boys who lived there and the others who needed a home beyond their dorms. She lined up their lunches in brown bags on her counter at home and their combs and Brylcreem in bags on her counter at the pharmacy.

Dinardi died a few years ago. But in a fuzzy home video from her 90th birthday party, “Ann’s boys” stood up one after another to tell her what they meant to her.

West said that without her, “maybe my dreams would not have been realities.”

Lee is basing her movie on Hundley and Dinardi’s dynamic. “He learned to be the one thing he’d never been and that was a son, while she learned to be the one thing she’d never been and that was a mother,” Lee said.

Dinardi’s great niece, Connie Merandi, BS, ‘81, Textiles and Clothing, said Dinardi never sought to take care of a houseful of talented hoop stars. But she took on this unexpected motherhood with the grit, determination and humor that led her to graduate in 1931 from WVU with a degree in pharmacy. When Lee talks about the film project, she says the story has everything in it. It’s a chick flick. It’s a sports heart-warmer. It’s a coming of age tale. It’s a chase of glory on the court.

But the film itself is also a chance for West Virginia, she says. Lee wants to prove that the state is a viable option for films — that it has a beauty you can’t replicate in other states or on sound stages. And most of all, she wants Dinardi to be remembered.

“If you think about what this feisty woman did,” Lee said, “that has affected the history of the NBA, that has affected the golden age of West Virginia basketball — and outside of those of us who remember her, nobody knows.”

“I have to tell her story, and I have to do it here.”

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