For more than 100 years, one of the country’s most respected newspapers could be found near downtown Kansas City on Grand Boulevard.
Blair Kerkhoff, a sportswriter, would walk in in awe most days. The Kansas City Star, and the exterior walls fitted in brick, likely elicited similar reactions from many others.
“Something that made an early impression was seeing a plaque dedicated to war veterans who worked at the newspaper, and the list included Ernest Hemingway,” Kerkhoff said, noting that President Harry Truman and Walt Disney also were employed there. “Walking into the old Star building, which opened in 1911 and was our home until 2017, was like walking into a history book.”
Kerkhoff certainly has enhanced The Star’s rich tradition in sports coverage, and it’s why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted him with the Class of 2023.
Kerkhoff has been a reporter, beat writer and columnist for the Star since 1989, and overall, has been a sportswriter for more than four decades.
When the Big 12 Conference was formed in 1996, he became a regional and national college sports reporter after serving as a college beat writer. He has covered 30 Final Fours and 25 college football championship games. Additionally, he has covered Super Bowls, World Series, the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Playoffs and U.S. Open golf.
Over the past decade, Kerkhoff has covered the Chiefs and Royals in addition to college sports. He authored five books, has been elected to the United States Basketball Writers Hall of Fame and won the Bert McGrane Award from the Football Writers Association of America.
Additionally, he has soldiered through a 2021 leukemia diagnosis with the strength of his family, his wife of 39 years, Karen, and their children Nate, and his wife Gyeongeun, Ben and Anna.
Along the way, high ethical standards have marked his career.
“I covered college sports almost exclusively for about
two decades at The Star, and it probably helped that I didn’t attend college around here,” Kerkhoff said.
“There was no emotional stake in the schools I covered. This extended to my family. We didn’t buy college gear for our kids. Royals and Chiefs shirts were fine, but no Mizzou, Kansas or Kansas State. We didn’t want anyone to see a certain color shirt and believe dad favored that team.”
Born in Pittsburgh, Pa., and a Roberto Clemente fan, Kerkhoff relocated to North Carolina in his youth. He eventually graduated from Broughton High School in Raleigh, where he was a three-year baseball letterman. He later graduated from Appalachian State University.
It’s probably no wonder he became a sportswriter.
“No matter where we lived, my parents subscribed to every newspaper available,” Kerkhoff said. “Our daily deliveries were newspapers and periodicals. I’d get the paper, pull out the sports section and spread it out on the floor. If I didn’t learn to read this way, sports sections and description writing contributed to my vocabulary.”
That led to Kerkhoff writing for his high school and college newspapers, working part-time at the Raleigh
News & Observer and, eventually, covering sports at the Roanoke (Va.) Times.
With the Star, Kerkhoff’s impact has been felt. In 2001, his reporting following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to this: uniting the son and wife of Jason Dahl, the pilot of Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania, with NASCAR drivers at Kansas Speedway. A Kansas City businessman had sat next to Dahl on a Newark, N.J.-bound flight on Sept. 10.
To Kerkhoff, the challenge is keeping up with colleagues in the same newsroom, such as Vahe Gregorian, Sam McDowell, Jesse Newell, Gary Bedore, Kellis Robinett, Herbie Teope and Pete Grathoff. Plus, he counts editors such as Jeff Rosen, Mike Fannin and Holly Lawton as key figures in his development.
“Some of the nation’s top sports journalists have worked for The Star, and I’ve tried to steal, ahem, borrow from all of them,” Kerkhoff said.
So many others contributed to his love of sports and, later, success. Among them have been his mom and dad, as well as teachers, professors, coaches and friends.
“It has meant having a front row seat to much of Kansas City’s sports history and the responsibility of helping write the first draft of forever moments like the Super Bowl, World Series, NCAA and MLS championships,” Kerkhoff said. “It also means having the privilege of telling the stories of those who have shaped our history and culture, our pleasure and our passion. Hey, we write about fun and games. What could be better?”