Coach Jack Kidwell affected thousands of lives before, during and after his 30 years with the Cleveland City Schools system, as well as working with and pioneering some local youth sports programs.
“He was a dedicated coach. Always smiling, win or lose,” remarked longtime local radio broadcaster Corky Whitlock. “He loved Cleveland High School and the kids. He was an outstanding family man, a great leader in our community.”
Although probably best known for coaching the Cleveland Lady Raiders basketball squad for 17 years, Kidwell also helped coach the football Blue Raiders, as well as the track team for a while.
Originally from Knoxville, he was active in track and football at Knoxville Central High School and the University of Tennessee.
“He was a runner for the Vol track team, plus he was on the taxi (practice) squad for Gen. (Robert) Neyland’s football Vols (of the early 1950s),” related his son Jack Kidwell Jr.
After earning his bachelor of science degree in education, Kidwell and his wife, Eleanor, moved to Louisiana, where he became the physical director of the New Orleans YMCA from 1954-63. The family moved to Bradley County in 1963 as he became the general secretary of the Cleveland Family YMCA.
“Dad did a lot of coaching in New Orleans — basketball, swimming and was even a judo instructor,” commented Jack Jr. “He played some semipro football and basketball while in New Orleans.”
Through his work at the YMCA, the elder Kidwell helped establish the first midget league youth football program in Bradley County, plus coached Dixie Youth baseball for many years.
Kidwell joined the Cleveland High faculty and coaching staff in 1967, taking over the Lady Raider basketball program in just its second year of existence. He became friends with legendary Bradley Central Bearette coach Jim Smiddy, with whom his team had many battles on the court.
“Coach Smiddy won his share and Dad won his share,” commented Jack Jr., who got to coach with his father for a few years. “They were friendly off the court and even took their teams to the same summer camp at Walland High School where Coach A.J. Wilson was. It (the Cleveland-Bradley rivalry) is the greatest rivalry in the state. Dad enjoyed being a part of it.
“Dad’s biggest victory over Coach Smiddy was probably one year when we (CHS) had only won two or three games all year,” the younger Kidwell commented. “We had to play them in the opening round of the district tournament. Kelly Fulton, who coaches at Cleveland Middle now, got fouled and hit a 1-and-1 (bonus foul shots) with just a couple of seconds left to win the game and end their season.”
“Coach Kidwell was like a dad to me,” declared former Lady Raider standout Regina (Dillon) Lewis, who played at CHS from 1974-78. “He was an awesome, awesome man. I would go back after college and help him by scrimmaging with the girls.
“We exchanged Christmas cards all through the years. He sent me a nice note and a copy of a Banner article that had a photo of my son (Cal Pickel) from a football game last fall,” she added. “He was proud not only of his players, but their children’s success as well.”
Lewis also recalled that during her senior season (1977-78), Coach Kidwell’s squad not only beat Bradley, which was ranked No. 1 in the Class AAA at the time, it turned around a couple of weeks later and defeated Maryville Porter, which was ranked No. 1 in Class A.
Directing the Lady Raiders until 1985 when former Bradley and University of Tennessee standout Zandra (Montgomery) Morris became the head coach, Kidwell “took a couple of teams to the state (tournament) when it was still 3-on-3 basketball (1970s),” Jack Jr. related. “We made it to the state semifinals one year and lost to Woodbury on a last-second shot.”
“Dad liked the 5-on-5 game better (the TSSAA switched formats beginning in the 1978-79 season),” his son added. “He felt like it opened up the game more.”
“He was a great coach to work with,” proclaimed Chuck Condo, who was the CHS boys basketball head coach for 17 years, beginning in 1969. “He was very cooperative and willing to do whatever we needed to do to help both programs.
“We both helped coach the freshman football team with Bill Talley (another CHS coaching legend),” Condo stated. “Jack was a very friendly person, who loved the kids and would do anything he could to help people. The kids loved him. He was very fun to be around and always had a story to tell.”
Former radio broadcasting partner Bob Hanshaw echoed that sentiment. “I’d do the play-by-play and Jack would keep the stats and do the color commentating. Sometimes he’d get involved in a humorous story and just keep talking while the plays were going on. He’d keep talking while I tried to describe the action,” he said with a laugh.
“We started out together doing Cleveland football on Alive 95 and then later we switched to WBAC,” related Hanshaw, who said the duo worked together on the air for 10-12 years. “Jack had a great knowledge of football. He was a lot of fun to work with. He’s a great friend and will be sorely missed by a lot of people. He was a great person.”
After stepping down from the hardwood sideline, Kidwell continuing to working full time in the city school system until 1997, serving as an assistant principal at CHS, Project 714 Coordinator, Teen Learning Center educator, plus did some work with some the local elementary schools as well.
A couple of years following the death of his first wife, with whom he had four sons, Kidwell married Martha Allen Billings in 1984 and became the father of two daughters. The pair loved to travel and led educational tours to several parts of the world.
“His wife, Martha, had an in with EF Educational Tours, so they would organize trips and went all over,” Jack Jr. explained. “They went to Europe and Scandinavia several times, as well as Russia, Egypt, Northern Africa, South America and Australia.
“One time when I got to go with them, we went to Normandy Beach (site of the great World War II invasion) and you could see the emotion he had just being there. Being a history teacher, the trips meant so much to him. His favorite place he visited was New Zealand.
“Dad also took three missionary trips to Jamaica, one of which he helped build a school for girls there,” his son added.
Kidwell was 83 years old when he passed away Saturday in a local health care facility. The family will hold visitation this evening from 5 to 8 p.m. at the North Ocoee Chapel of Jim Rush Funeral Homes. A Celebration of Life service will be held Tuesday afternoon at 4 at Wesley United Methodist Church.