Tag Archives: high school 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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Home Field Advantage

home-field

Home Field: A Novel by Hannah Gersen (William Morrow Paperbacks, $14.99, 432 pages)

One of the joys of reviewing books is when one comes across a new book or writer that was not previously on the radar screen. That is what happened to me with Hannah Gersen’s novel Home Field. Plain and simple, Gersen delivers the goods.

Gersen tells a touching story of loss and redemption that engages and avoids sentimentality. Her ability to craft meaningful and natural dialogue among characters, which is difficult for many writers, is impressive.

In Home Field, Dean Renner is a revered small town football coach in rural Maryland. However, his personal life is not as orderly or successful as his disciplined routine as that of a head coach (amid the excitement of Friday night lights).

Dean’s wife Nicole, whose first husband died young, suffers from depression and ultimately commits suicide in the most unsettling of ways. His stepdaughter, Stephanie, wrestles with the loss of a father she never knew followed by her mother’s untimely death. Dean battles his own troubles as years of emotional isolation during his marriage took its toll. Was Nicole’s unhappiness due to Dean’s obsession with coaching, or did he absorb himself in coaching to fill the void that her mental illness created in his life? Or, is it just the way of things that the unscripted complexities of life do not lend themselves to executing a plan in the way that X’s and O’s on a chalkboard equal success on the field?

On top of it, Dean must play single father to his two boys, one of whom – Robbie, is a mystery to him. Robbie’s attraction to the theater and his extreme sensitivity are foreign to Dean’s practical, tactical approach to life. It is Robbie who holds the mirror up to the characters’ souls; it’s his actions that bring the events in the story to a head, and bring the hearts of the community together.

home-field-back-cover

Coach Renner appears to achieve some peace of mind as the story comes to a close. But, one question remains. He could not save his wife from herself. So while he works miracles with other people’s kids, can he save his own?

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is a public school superintendent in Illinois, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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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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