Tag Archives: football

When the Men Were Gone

when the men were gone

When the Men Were Gone: A Novel by Marjorie Herrera Lewis (William Morrow, $26.99/$15.99, 240 pages)

When the Men Were Gone, based on a true story, is Marjorie Herrera Lewis’ debut novel about Tylene Wilson, an assistant principal at a Texas high school who takes over the school’s football team during World War II, when all of the men are either at war or returning home dead.

Wilson has grown up an avid fan and shares many childhood memories with her father, but when she steps up to make sure the boys get one last chance to play football before the war comes calling, she is seen in a less than favorable light by many of the locals.  Her heroic gesture is met more with scorn than gratitude, because “everybody knows” that coaching football in Texas is clearly a man’s job.

When Wilson finally clears the imminent hurdles with her principal and the school board, the team takes the field for its first game against a powerhouse program in front of a full house with reporters from hours away descending upon Brownwood, Texas.

It turns out that Wilson does know what she’s doing, and Lewis tells both an inspiring and enjoyable story.  She does well to avoid too much commentary and simply leads the reader through the thoughts and actions of the characters, bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

The book, however, is arguably a bit too lean at less than 250 pages.  Its primary drawback is that a little more meat at times could have made for a better, more complete story.  This does not seem to have been the goal for Lewis, but more could have been done to shore up the characters and plot.

Lewis herself covered the Dallas Cowboys for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and endured some taunting from some insiders before winning them over.  She went on to join the Texas Wesleyan University football staff.  Though not autobiographical, Lewis apparently relied upon her knowledge and personal experiences to lend credibility to the inspiring account.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.  When the Men Were Gone will be released in hardbound and trade paper versions on October 2, 2018.

Dave Moyer is the Superintendent of Schools for the Elmhurst Unit District 205 public school district, located just north of Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel about baseball, love and Bob Dylan.

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Another Rookie

The Long Snapper by Jeffrey Marx (Harper One, $24.99, 245 pages)

The Long Snapper would be a charming true story except that we’ve read and seen it before.   In the book and film version of The Rookie (Dennis Quaid starred in the movie), we were told the true story of Jim Morris, a professional baseball player who becomes a school teacher when his athletic career is over.   Years pass before he’s suddenly contacted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who want him to try out for a pitching opening.   He’s undecided but his students encourage him to take the try-out, and this “rookie” returns to “the Show.”

Take the exact same story and substitute the football player Brian Kitchen for Morris and you have The Long Snapper.   Kinchen played pro football for 12 years before losing his job and becoming a school teacher.   Two years pass and then guess what?   Oh, yes, the same thing that happened in The Rookie.   Except that Kinchen is invited to try out for a team that’s two wins away from the Super Bowl.

You can probably guess what the ending is going to be.   Does our hero come through in the Big Game?   The climax will only surprise those who haven’t seen Hoosiers, The Bad News Bears, Invincible or Remember the Titans.

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go by Elizabeth Flock

This was, for me, a very enjoyable read.   Everything Must Go is the story of Henry Powell, an Everyman whose life (like that of the narrator-sister in Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy) has been touched and battered by a family tragedy.   Henry’s parents blame him for that tragedy and so he’s forced to put aside the life he otherwise would have led.

Henry’s an all-state star high school football player who receives an offer to play for a big-time college.   But it’s not to be as he is called home to take care of his unemployed father and sickly mother.   Henry has to make do with a “temporary” job working in a men’s clothing store.   Even after he moves into his own apartment and works full-time at the store, he’s still forced to take care of his mother each evening.

Life goes on as normal until Henry happens to meet the girl of his dreams, Cathy.   She seems to really like Henry until she meets his mother and then rushes to get away.   Yes, Henry’s mother has secured a measure of revenge for what she views as his role in the family’s deadly accident.

With time Henry not only goes on to live without his beloved Cathy, he even comes to realize and accept that they were just not meant to be together, which is when he becomes open to meeting someone better for him…

As the clothing store eventually is set to close (to be reborn as a Restoration Hardware site), Henry becomes aware that his life has come to make sense.   It’s time for him to move on, even if he’s not sure where the rest of his life will take him.   He’s gained confidence in his fate and is willing to let the past go.   As the sign says in the window of the clothing store, EVERYTHING MUST GO.

A charming and calming story is so very well told by Elizabeth Flock.   There are many very nice touches in the telling of the tale that future readers will enjoy discovering.   Let it be said that Flock does not depend on implausible events or loud explosions to tell her story.   She simply chronicles the story of an average person’s life in an above average way.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Anyone for tennis?

Little Pancho 2Once young boys had dozens of books to chose from that chronicled the lives and achievements of their sports heroes; of baseball heroes like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Sandy Koufax; of football players like Johnny Unitas and Paul Horning.   Those days are apparently long gone, but then along comes this somewhat-adoring view of the life of tennis great Pancho Segura.   Little Pancho covers the life of the dirt-poor, extremely sickly, Ecuadorian who began winning tennis championships in his teens and continued doing so until the age of 67.

Segura was the man who introduced the two-handed forehand to tennis and went on to coach a young man who would find some success, a player known as Jimmy Connors.   Author Seebohm writes with a smooth and flowing style that makes this biography as easy to read as a young-adults version.   She also focuses on the “pay it forward” aspects of Segura’s life, such as the fact that his coaching of Connors led Connors to later coach a “struggling but talented” Andy Roddick.   Roddick learned Segura’s skills via Connors.

The only drawback with this story is the feeling that Segura’s personality is never quite captured.   Still, a charming life well told.

University of Nebraska Press, $26.95, 210 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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Happy Jack: A Review of Our Boys

It may just be me…   Sometimes with non-fiction sports stories – especially ones that are intended to be inspirational – I feel like I can’t get any traction as a reader.   They start off slowly and I tend to wait and wait and wait and wait, thinking they’ll speed up and the excitement will hit me.   I had this problem with the book version of Friday Night Lights.   I bought the trade paperback while on vacation thinking the read would fly by.   Instead, I plodded and crawled my way through the story and somehow never located the part where it sped up.

Sadly, The Boys… is a very Friday Night… like tale.   It’s a non-fiction account chronicled by an on-leave newspaper reporter of his year spent with a high school’s football team on the plains of Kansas.   OK, if this makes your heart beat faster it may be a book for your vacation.   (Beware that the words wheat and wheat fields are used a lot.)Our Boys (large)

Perhaps part of the problem for me is that I was reading a galley/advanced reading copy of Our Boys.   There were no teaser quotes on the front or back cover – or even inside – stating things like, “The most inspirational youth sports story of the decade!” or “This is Drape’s youth sports masterpiece!”   Galleys can be a bit dull.

Then there’s Drape’s factual reporting style.   Here’s a sample:  “The coaches’ office…  was not much to look at – blue lockers on one wall and across from them a long desk fashioned from plywood and file cabinets.   Its top was buried under papers…   Beneath it were boxes full of jerseys and T-shirts and rolls of tape.   Scouting reports dating back five years were in red binders and lined the sleeves.”   Does this make you want to know what happened next?

To be fair, the author himself notes that the Smith Center football coach was hard for reporters to cover as his proclamations “rarely veered from too familiar themes.”   Oh, the coach would say that his team respected every opponent while fearing none; he’d also praise the opponents for playing hard.

In summary, I had hopes that this true life story would offer some fun like a ride in a Volkswagen GTI.   Instead it was a ride in a John Deere Harvester as it plowed through Kansas wheat fields, never quite managing to speed up.

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Coming Up Next…

Our boys (small)A review of Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen by Joe Drape.

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