It’s 45 minutes before the doors open at Clint’s Comics on Main Street in downtown Kansas City and a line of David Dastmalchian fans is gathering on the sidewalk, waiting to visit with the actor and screenwriter.
And today, they are eager to purchase his new comic book, “Count Crowley: Reluctant Midnight Monster Hunter,” which debuted to much fanfare in October.
Inside his favorite childhood comic book store, Dastmalchian and his wife Eve are collecting hundreds of comic books that will be dropped off at Children’s Mercy Hospital, a gift from the couple who have been involved in many charitable events for the Kansas City hospital, including the Big Slick Weekend, which includes a softball game at Kauffman Stadium.
Soon, the clock strikes 11 a.m., the doors open and hundreds of fans walk in, clutching a copy of “Count Crowley” in one hand and a cell phone in the other.
There are longtime friends, classmates, and, near the front of the line, a quiet gentleman holding something unique – the supplement to the 1995 Shawnee Mission South High School yearbook – and it features a story and photo of a young David Dastmalchian.
After signing a copy of his comic, and posing for a photo, Dastmalchian spots his former football coach, Hall of Famer Fred Merrell, who now lives in Blue Springs.
Tears fill Dastmalchian’s eyes as he embraces his coach for what seems like a lifetime.
“Oh my gosh,” Dastmalchian tells the inquisitive crowd, “this is my high school football coach who always encouraged me about my acting. Back then, you really couldn’t be in plays and play football, but Coach Merrell would let me leave football practice early so I could go to play practice, which was unheard of at the time.”
“Oh Coach, I owe you so much.”
Dastmalchian and Merrell visit for several minutes, exchange phone numbers and the former Raider offensive lineman signs the yearbook supplement: “For Coach Merrell, He believed in me.”
Merrell, who has a 216-177-12 record at five schools – including Blue Springs High School back in 1972 – called their reunion one of the most special moments of his life.
“I didn’t know how David would react, or if he would even remember me,” said Merrell, who was inducted into the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association first Hall of Fame Class in 2015.
“When he saw me, he looked a little bit shocked, and I thought I saw a tear in his eyes. I had no idea I had an impact on his life when he was at Shawnee Mission South.
“He was a bit of a maverick, and a fun kid to be around. His senior year we were 8-3 and lost those three games by four points.”
Merrell, who once kicked drop kicked an NAIA record 51-yard field goal for William Jewell in 1952, recalled the Dastmalchian years at South with great clarity.
“He was everything at the high school – president of the senior class, homecoming king, he played football, wrestled, ran track, was in the choir. He was involved in everything, and he was just a great young man to be around,” Merrell said.
“It was funny because I also coached (actor) Rob Riggle, and David told me he got together with Rob a month or so ago and they were talking about the days at South and were wondering whatever happened to me.”
“This is a lifelong dream,” Dastmalchian said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
And after he visited with his former coach, the popular actor/screenwriter/comic book author and Shawnee Mission South haunted house coordinator quickly added, “It just got better. And I didn’t think that was possible, but it did.”