On These Courts: A Miracle Season That Changed A City, A Once-Future Star, and A Team Forever by Wayne B. Drash (Touchstone, $26.00, 267 pages)
“A lot of people put a lot of emphasis on Elvis Presley as the icon of Memphis, but I put mine on Anfernee Hardaway… He’s a great person and he cares… Anything that he can do for anybody, he will do it.”
On These Courts demonstrates that the Bad News Bears exist in real life. This is the story of the Lester Middle School Lions, based in the crime ridden Binghampton neighborhood of Memphis. The goal of this team was to win the state championship for their age group. To qualify they would have to beat the one school they lost to earlier (they did). And they would find themselves down by 14 points with 5 minutes to go in the big game.
Did the Lions come back to win? Well, life is not a Disney movie. You will need to read this book to find out.
The team’s coach was struck by cancer, and a former professional basketball player worth $200 million — Anfernee (“Penny”) Hardaway — stepped in to help. This sometimes-moving account of a special season shows how important courage, determination and grit are in the face of social and economic adversity. A group of kids with nothing to lose gave it all they had in order to bring a small measure of glory and acceptance to their downtrodden community.
This book reminds us that one person can change the world; all it takes is a dream.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and A Magical Baseball Season by Chris Ballard (Hyperion, $24.95, 254 pages)
“He loved us boys… He loved us, and we loved him – and we still do.” Steve Shartzer on Macon high’s former baseball coach Lynn Sweet
One Shot at Forever proves that Bad News Bears stories do happen in real life. This is the tale of the 1971 high school baseball team from the rust belt town of Macon, Illinois. The Macon team represented the smallest high school to ever qualify for the Illinois state championship playoff, and they did it not once, but two years in a row. The talented team with the mismatched uniforms and an unconventional coach (he was said to look like a hung-over version of Frank Zappa) was headed to Peoria in 1970, before being disqualified on a strange technicality. It looked like the underdog’s day was over, until the slight, long-haired players very improbably made another championship run in ’71.
The boys from Macon adopted Jesus Christ Superstar as their theme song, and they made it all the way to the state championship final game. Did they win or lose the big game? You’ll need to read One Shot to find out.
Chris Ballard has produced a great, small but big, book about life’s lessons and the value of competition. This one’s especially recommended for younger readers whose wins, losses and draws are still ahead of them.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “A beautiful and unforgettable book.” Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights.
Resurrection: The Miracle Season That Saved Notre Dame by Jim Dent
“Parseghian had taught them how to win. All Notre Dame needed was someone to remind them of just how great they could be.”
Resurrection covers the 1964 “miracle season” for Notre Dame football, during which the new non-Catholic coach Ara Parseghian steered them to a share of the national championship. This was also the year that the so-called “Touchdown Jesus” mural appeared on a building adjoining the football stadium. It was the beginning of the Era of Ara.
Jim Dent provides us with what initially appears to be a fine overview of a team’s season in college football. It’s more interesting than most such accounts, as he focuses on a handful of players who were unable to play for the Fighting Irish prior to ’64 due to suspensions, injuries or personality conflicts with the former head coach. It gives the feeling of a real-life Bad News Bears aspect that’s entertaining.
This was a season in which the Irish lost only their final game, played at USC. Dent seems to obsess about this “heartbreaking loss…” during which “Notre Dame was defeated by a far inferior team.” He spends far too many pages claiming that the game was stolen by the referees, although Parseghian himself said: “I am not going to blame the officials.”
The ND-USC game in question occurred over 45 years ago. Let it be.
Thomas Dunne Books, $25.99, 306 pages
Reprinted courtesy of San Francisco Book Review
This is an enjoyable and lighweight summer read. It’s the “tail” of a man who adopts a scruffy Sheltie dog from a rescue pound with the hope of turning him into a pro dog circuit champion. On the plus side, author Rodi is at his best when describing his love and admiration for the dog, Dusty. Dusty is far from a natural athlete. So, despite the reader’s fervent hopes, this is not a story that winds up in a Hoosiers or Bad News Bears-style ending.
The author comes off as more than a bit pretentious – he “prefers fine wine and Italian literature (in Italian)” – in contrast to the life that most of us live. But Dusty teaches him that life’s rewards are about the smallest of things: “(When Dusty’s) plunging through the tire, the velocity streaking the fur on his face and splaying his cheeks into a smile… he seems suddenly beautiful, suddenly graceful, suddenly powerful. … I really love the little guy.”
The reader expects this book to be about the author and major changes in his life. Instead, it’s about learning to accept the grace that a small furry creature can bring into our lives; nothing more and nothing less.
Hudson Street Press, $24.95, 273 pages.
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.