TERRE HAUTE —
Those of us who were at Riverton Parke High School’s baseball diamond April 8, 1995, will carry the memories of that sad Saturday to our graves.
I had been assigned by Mark Bennett, the Tribune-Star’s sports editor at the time, to cover the annual Banks of the Wabash Classic tournament.
As the skies darkened and rain started to fall, North Vermillion led Rockville 4-3 in the bottom of the fourth inning in the championship game. While action continued on the field, I retreated to the concession stand for cover.
Thunder could be heard in the distance, but I probably wasn’t alone in dismissing it as a non-threat.
Keep in mind that I don’t usually write in all caps, but I’ll make an exception here: I WAS WRONG!
Out of nowhere, a bolt of lightning struck closer than I’ve ever seen in my life. Needing a few seconds to figure out what happened, I eventually realized the North Vermillion left fielder had been hit.
His name was Kirk Gentrup, a 16-year-old sophomore who happened to be the starting point guard and best player on the Falcons’ boys basketball team.
Gentrup was pronounced dead later that day and I ended up writing a front-page death story instead of a routine baseball game story for the Sunday sports section.
I’ve reflected on the tragic events of that day often since 1995, but not nearly as often as Kirk’s father Ken Gentrup.
I officially met Ken under more pleasant circumstances a few years later when he became girls basketball coach at North Vermillion. He served in that role for six seasons, guiding the Falcons to one Class A state title and one Class A state runner-up finish.
For years, through good times and bad, Ken Gentrup kept a journal, never forgetting his fallen son.
He had considered composing a book about Kirk and the rare circumstances of his death, but he didn’t get around to it until this year.
On April 8, 2010, Ken began putting his memoirs into book form. With the help of North Vermillion graduate and Danville (Ill.) publisher Shaun Kilgore, he recently completed his project of love.
Kilgore said the official release date for “Heaven’s Point Guard: The Kirk Gentrup Story” was Friday.
A 216-page, eight-chapter hardback with a jacket cover featuring a close-up photo of Kirk’s face, the book can be purchased online at www.foundershouse.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com. Cost is $20.
“I think it’ll be an easy read, but a tough read, particularly for those who knew Kirk,” Ken Gentrup told me this week. “I think it turned out exceptionally well. Shaun did a great job with it.”
“I think we did pretty well with it,” said Kilgore, who owns Founders House Publishing.
“I think we expressed the main points he wanted to get across.”
A public book-launching party is scheduled for 6 p.m. next Friday at Rivercrest Golf Club in Covington. Ken Gentrup — now 60, running an antique store in Danville and living part-time in Covington — will be available to sign each book purchased.
Kilgore said other book signings are likely to take place in the Wabash Valley in the next few months.
I haven’t read the book yet, but I plan to do so soon. One chapter that sounds like a must-read is titled “Four Days of Hell.” Ken said it starts with him taking the morning bus ride with Kirk and his teammates to Riverton Parke and ends with the burial of Kirk.
“It bothered me to write it sometimes,” Ken Gentrup admitted, referring to the entire emotion-filled book. “So I had to step away for a while.”
By the way, if Kirk Gentrup were alive today, he would be turning 32 next month.
Hard to believe.
David Hughes can be reached by phone after 4 p.m. at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.