I was a member of Club Trillion long before Mark Titus took his first shot on a Little Tykes basketball hoop--but I'll get to Club Trillion later.
My brother recently sent me an antique photo that forced me to dust off some memories. Jockbrarian, circa 1985, when I hated reading, Phil Collins was topping the charts with cheezy duets, The Breakfast Club was a new release, and I was the 15th man on a 15 member varsity high school basketball squad that won 5 games.
My Junior year in high school I tried out with 60 other guys (back when "try-outs" actually existed and "entitlement" was in it's infancy). I moreless got asked to stick around. Three guys got the proposal of a lifetime: "We'd love to have you on the team, but you will absolutely never play." Only one sucker took the offer! Let's face it, I was honored and moved to be considered "just good enough."
Like my mullet, this attitude would never fly today. If a coach said this to a kid's face now, they'd laugh and skip for Taco Bell. There's no glory in just being on a team, anymore. People used to play the game because they loved the game. You want to tell me another time in life when you can play basketball for 3 hours a day? People laughed at me, but I didn't give a crap. I embraced the joke. If that made me a fool, so be it. At least I was a happy idiot. At one point that year, I even had a fan newsletter circulating after each home game analyzing my warm up stats, layup style points, and shell-drill performance. I was a curiosity and a cult-scrub; it was brilliant.
I bring all of this up because one of my favorite recently read books was Don't Put Me In Coach by Mark Titus. Titus played for Ohio State from 2006-2010, with the book being released in 2012. I say "play" loosely, as Titus was a bench warmer for the entire 4 years. Through his lack of playing, though, he created a blog called Club Trillion, which spoke not only to the sacred brotherhood of benchwarmers over the world, but also gave people an insider's view of a NCAA Div 1 college hoops program. Club Trillion was named to pay homage to the perfect game for a scrub: 0 stats in any game category. Through this blog, Titus became a crowd hero across the Big Ten for his reports from the pine.
Like most self proclaimed basketball prodogies, Titus began his playing journey in AAU ball, where he had the fortune of being on a team with fellow future Buckeyes Greg Oden and Mike Conley. From there he rose to walk-on status through mostly good fortune. The majority of the book covers his 4 years at Ohio State playing for one of the best teams of the decade. His stories include many reference to to Oden, Conley, and especially The Villian.
This is no Rudy story, though. There's no game winning basket and no miraculous rise from the floor after being knocked out. Thank God. There are enough Rudy stories on our shelves to disillusion kids into believing everything turns up roses and they are owed this trope. Titus is loved not for his accomplishments, but for his lack of accomplishments., which is why I connect with him.
Titus writes with great candor. He comes off as funny, a complete smart-ass, and kind of a knob. But that's what makes his story great. Deep down, people struggle with the try-hard Rudys--hustling around around and brown nosing with such numbing sincerity. Titus is a hustler, but he's not going to be anyone's bitch. That's how true survival works as a benchwrmer on a real team.
Some of my favorite parts are when he talks about his games against my Wisconsin Badger teams. Titus thinks our cheeleaders are ugly, and affectionately refers to our players as "the buzzcuts." Those Bo Ryan teams always looked like something out of Hoosiers, and by the time you were done laughing about how the hell any top 20 team could lose to a bunch of guys that looked like that, you'd already lost.
For all his self deprication, the truth is that Titus clearly loves the game and he values the walk-on experience. His final game as a Buckeye is a pretty cool moment that showed exactly the passion behind the madness for Titus. For that, I often felt while reading the book that he would have been a great fit with the buzzcuts. Hell, he probably would have played! (And I've heard that in between taking charges, they actually joke around in Wisconsin)
Titus often touts his high baskeball IQ, correctly infering that all of the "true learning" comes from time on the bench. Basketball knowledge? Not really....but you do learn pretty fast who sucks out on the court and how much better the game would be if you were playing.
Don't let the fact that the book is 6 years old scare you. The only thing that has changed about bench warming is that it used to accurately be called "riding the pines" in that team benches used to be the actual first row of the wooden bleachers. Now, not only are bleachers plastic, but most teams are parked for games on candy-ass mega padded fluff chairs. A true luxury for the Titus generation of stiffs.
Is this book fit for a high school library? Sure it is! It's crude and vulgar at times--many times-but if you would spend any time around a high school baskeball team, you'd hear far worse. I think there's a good message in all of this for young athletes anyways: Sometimes you have to chill out, laugh a little, not take sports so damn seriously, and enjoy the ride! It's a lesson I learned in 1985.
Sadly, my final year of assistant coaching the West Bend West girls cross country team has closed. In addition to running coach, pop psychologist, and relationship guru, I sported a new bit part this season as comedian-in-residence. My girls demand one stupid joke a day, and they also found out I write a sports book blog, thinking that was pretty damn solid comedy as well.
Anyways, they begged me to include them in a blog post, and I will do one better--I will write one for them(A serious one!! Gasp!)--and of course recommend some books!
Coaching high school girls has been an experience for sure. Moreso than guys, a coach of high school girls needs to provide a shoulder to cry on, a place to vent, infinite advice on the male psyche, and a really high tolerance for crappy music played loudly. There are moods galore; the highs after good races are boundless, and the lows after poor races are stiffling. Nobody gets down on themselves more than female runners. I can use a "get em next week" speech with any guy, but females usually burst into tears at the sound of a good pick-me-up. In a very serious way, their confidence is fragile to start, and can often spiral out of control until parents, friends, and coaches can no longer provide rationalization or support.
For that reason, my parting advice and suggestions to you, my beloved runners, follows the sentiment in the book Let Your Mind Run by Deena Kastor. Since you probably weren't paying much attention to the running world until recently, Kastor's background is summarized as such:
Deena Kastor was a star youth runner with tremendous promise, yet her career almost ended after college, when her competitive method—run as hard as possible, for fear of losing—fostered a frustration and negativity and brought her to the brink of burnout. On the verge of quitting, she took a chance and moved to the high altitudes of Alamosa, Colorado, where legendary coach Joe Vigil had started the first professional distance-running team. There she encountered the idea that would transform her running career: the notion that changing her thinking—shaping her mind to be more encouraging, kind, and resilient—could make her faster than she’d ever imagined possible. Building a mind so strong would take years of effort and discipline, but it would propel Kastor to the pinnacle of running—to American records in every distance from the 5K to the marathon—and to the accomplishment of earning America’s first Olympic medal in the marathon in twenty years.
In translation, this book takes a peek inside the mind of an elite female runner. You may say, "I'm not elite, so this wouldn't work for me." Wrong. Elite or not, the mind works the same way. While the achievements of Kastor are worth reading about, the idea of cultivating a positive attitude and self confidence is the true nugget of wisdom here. In all my years and wisdom (and yes, I had teenage daughters who ran) I have found the mind of a female runner to be perfectionist, highly reflective, and intelligent. While these are great qualities, when channeled incorrectly, they can turn that same brilliant mind against itself into a monsterous self critic.
I have dealt with many female runners who had trouble climbing out of pits of debilitating self doubt. When your belief in yourself has abandoned you, there is not much left to lean on. Such was the case this past year with a graduating runner(you probably know her). Luckily, Kastor's book had just dropped, and as a graduation gift, I wrapped up the book and wrote a little note hoping that there might be one thing gained from reading the book that would stem the tide of self doubt and alter her mind's course as she headed to college.
A month later, I was met with a gratefulness that was genuine, and introspection that showed maturity. Clearly this girl had not just read the book, but was able to relay how it had literally changed her life. There were revelations that perhaps poor performaces were not due to physical shortcomings, but rather mental wavering. There was a sadness that mental bumps may have derailed seasons of promise--that full potential was being stiffled by a mind that wouldn't let the body believe that the next level could be attatined. Through Kastor's book, this runner was armed with a new confidence heading into her new college running experience. There was a greater awareness of the power of positive thought and the fact the building a sharp mind to promote self confidence was as important as building miles on the road.
Another book in the same vein that just came out, but I have not seen yet, is Strong: A Runner's Guide to Boosting Confidence and Becoming the Best Version of You by 2 time Olympian runner Kara Goucher. This book looks to give the same type of confidence boosting advice to female runners.
Those of you who aren't freshmen remeber the great article Coach J pulls out every year during the championship phase of the season about "Talking Back to the Voice." In it, runners are coached to not let voices of negativity into their heads. And when those defeatist thoughts do creep in, you need to "talk back" to that voice with affirmations and positivity that override the bad sentiments. By training your mind to say no, you are blocking those rogue emotions that say "You can't do that!" and talking back with "I CAN!" and "I WILL!"
I would get you all copies of Kastor's book, but on a teachers salary, I'd be eating rice for the rest of the year. Do yourself a favor and read it. Mark it up; pull some inspiring quotes and stories out and set out to improve. Don't be so hard on yourself and believe in the best version of who you are--because it is a pretty great one. I should know--I've run alongside you for many miles.
Best hopes, dreams, and wishes to all of you and thanks for the memories! Coach S
In celebration of the magical run of 2018, any decent library in Wiscosnin should have these books readily available for public consumption between games! Any library that took down Brewer books and changed to Packer displays--you need to immediately reverse course. (A library that actually has a display of ANY sports books up should be immediately commended, however) #gocrewbooks
To a young athlete, sports experiences are often at the center of family bonding. Kids may cherish the fact that their grandparents attend their sporting events and are in the stands to cheer. They may also have fond memories of sitting around the TV on a Sunday afternoon watching a Packer game with their loved one, or attending a ball game and reminiscing about great teams of the past.
But what happens when that loved one no longer can remember who is playing, or even that YOU are playing?
Such is often the case when living with a loved one that has Alzheimer’s disease. Martin J. Schreiber, my uncle, wrote My Two Elaines which provides insight as to how family and friends of those with Alzheimer’s cope and adapt when their loved ones are afflicted with this disease. A recent athletic event made me think deeply about this book, how it deals with sports, and why it should be in a school library.
This spring, the local high school hosted a major high school track meet. After a few events, on the award stand at the 50 yard line of the infield, was an athlete waiting to collect his award on the podium. Near the podium the meet manager stood waiting to hand out the award. In the stands there were hundreds of people, including the parents and grandparents of the athlete. On the track itself, competition continued.
As the athlete was about the receive his award, his anxious grandfather began making his way to an opening in the fence at the 50 yard line. The gentleman wandered out onto the track as the 100 meter dash was set to begin. The meet manager, sensing disaster, waved off the race and made his way to the grandparent.
At that very moment, everything could have become unglued.
Instead, what transpired was something that will resonate for a long time.
The meet manager, instead of becoming frustrated, gently went up to that man,
“Sir, we are in the middle of a race.”
“I am leaving and need to say goodbye to my grandson, Jim” he insisted.
The athlete's father, trailing powerlessly behind, could do little to stop the grandfather from accomplishing what his mind was set to do. The father looked anxiously at the meet manager as he followed behind.
“My dad has dementia”, he whispered apologetically. “He won’t leave until he talks to his grandson, Mike,” he pointed towards the podium.
The athlete, who was witnessing his grandfather crossing the track, leapt off the podium and met his grandfather on the track.
“I wanted to say goodbye, Jim,” the grandfather said
The athlete put his hand on his grandfather’s shoulder.
In front of the entire crowd, Mike hugged his grandfather.
“I’m happy that you came to see me today,” he said, “and I'll see you soon.”
With that, the meet manager and the father led the grandfather off the track, Mike returned to the podium, and the races resumed.
I tell you this story because there were so many things that went right in a situation where everything could have gone wrong.
The challenges Alzheimer’s presents can impact life events in unpredictable ways. But still, when reacting to the unexpected world of this disease.........
The impact of Alzheimer's extends far beyond the individual who suffers from the disease. In athletics, does this mean that a parent or grandparent should not attend an athletic event for a loved one? Should a young athlete be embarrassed by having his/her loved one with Alzheimer's show up to watch a competition? It can be very confusing to a youth who is used to seeing a loved one in a healthy state of mind, now function as a different person. How do they cope?
I think that it is important that we have our young athletes understand that with some maturity and understanding, a recently diagnosed loved one can still be part of their lives. For this reason I wanted to recommend adding My Two Elaines to your library.
Schreiber, whose wife suffers from Alzheimer’s, wrote the book from personal experience to help those who care for a person with Alzheimer’s. The book speaks to the reality of Alzheimer’s--not in scientific terms, but in terms of everyday life. Marty speaks to the reality that the person who suffers from Alzheimer’s is no longer the person they once were. Instead, there is a new reality--a new person so to speak, that requires a new understanding. There is, in a sense, a person before the disease, and the person after the disease. In addition to talking about the how the person with Alzheimer’s has changed, Marty focuses on how caregivers and family around that person can cope and exist with their loved one who is now functioning within the disease.
What does this have to do with sports and kids? Everything. More and more middle school, high school, and college athletes are dealing with parents or grandparents suffering from Alzheimer’s. Many are confused on how to deal with the fact that someone like a parent or grandparent, who has been so supportive of their athletic careers in the past, now doesn’t function as they used to or remember what they used to.
My Two Elaines will help these kids better understand the disease and give them strategies for keeping their loved ones in the game. It will help them realize that important relationships don’t have to end, but they will need to adapt and change. It’s not an easy topic for a young athlete, but an essential one to tackle.
It's only appropriate that I finish a book on my birthday and write about it. Though this blog is about nonfiction sports, I am going to admit that the book I finished was sports fiction. But it's my blog, I make the rules, and most likely I'm the only one that reads it!! If a tree falls in the forest, does nobody hears it,does it make a sound? Correct, so I will tell you about the book I finished.
Beartown by Frederik Backman called to me like the mysterious, lonely forest that the novel is set in. I'm a sucker for small town stories, and I'm a sucker for small town stories that center around sports. Every small town sports team is interwoven more intricately into the fabric of the community than any other place. You'd have to live in one to get it. I spent some time in small towns coaching, and I can promise you that every ounce of the drama is genuinely true.
Beartown has a youth hockey program. The players are spawned out of the womb of the town itself. The town lives and breathes with every match. Players are local heroes. Teammates are brothers. Legends lurk around every corner. Coaches are fathers by proxy. Dreams that have died in parents are rekindled in their sons. The good of the club comes before anything else. This arc is traced in any book about a youth sports team.
But what happens when adversity hits. Not the winning or losing kind--those wounds heal with time. There's always next year. No, these are wounds caused by crimes of human nature. Sometimes teenagers act like adults and commit adult crimes. Sometimes adults act like children. This book has some of both. At it's heart, the book is about a youth hockey club that is not only beloved by it's community, but as in many small town sports stories, the survival of the community itself is pinned on the success of the club. These two things cannot be separated. Since the club is the heart of Beartown, then all of it's arteries connect the people, families, and businesses of the community. Lack of blood flow will kill the entire body. So in that way, Backman's book is a cautionary tale for all of us, adults to children.
Why should a teen library get this book? Sometimes the egos of small town teen heroes can outgrow the immature bodies they are housed in. Sometimes they do bad things- like, say, push sexual advances too far. They do this because they feel that they are not only above the law of their parents, but emboldened by those that worship them(the town) to claim what they feel is rightfully theirs. Most often it is boys. Sadly. In this way, the book is a somber tale for those small town athletes to highlight what can happen when you get too big for your britches. Lives can literally change in an instant and some decisions, no matter how small they may seem, can have dire consequences and hurt the most unintended people.
I would have my teenage son read this book--I really would. It would be a great discussion starter for some pretty hard and important life talks with him. Beartown: A tale every young man should heed.
I think it is fair to say that the Milwaukee Bucks are undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Sure, I'm talking about the basketball, but I'm also talking books! Something about spending time in Milwaukee must turn hoopsters into renaissance men. Are we teaching the printing press instead of the press break here? We've now got a hand in more titles at Barnes and Noble this year than we do in the rafters.
Yes, in the past year or so, there has been a wave of books from former NBA players/coaches who have spent some fairly significant time with the Bucks.
In no particular order, here are the titles:
Ray Allen. From the Outside: My Journey Through Life and the Game I Love.
Vin Baker. God and Starbucks: An NBA Superstar's Journey Through Addiction and Recovery
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50 Year Relationship On and Off the Court
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Becoming Kareem
See previous blog post on books
Craig Hodges. Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter
See previous blog post on book
George Karl. Furious George: My Forty Years Surviving NBA Divas, Clueless GMs, and Poor Shot Selection
The kids in Milwaukee today are being raised in the "Fear the Deer" culture. They love Giannis and they eurostep their way through every trip to the rim (it's called traveling in youth leagues). But as in any rebuilding, it is important to study the past to appreciate the future. The Bucks franchise may not have the shine of the Celtics, Lakers, 76ers, or Bulls, but there were prior days when the basketball was pretty damn good, and they went toe to toe with those storied franchises regularly under the bright lights of National TV. McGlocklin, Alcindor, Moncrief, Robertson, Winters, Cummings, Johnson (Marques, not Mickey!) Sikma, Pierce, Bridgeman--I could go on. They were the play by play of my childhood. We were the driveway imitators of their unique styles! (Please see the Brian Winters jumpshot)
Milwaukee was/is considered an NBA small town. It was/is also one of the most segregated cities in the US. As you know from many sports titles I review here, the environment of a city, the era, and the athletes are all intertwined in a mix that makes sports a cultural study as much as a tally of wins an losses. In each one of these books, you not only get basketball stories, you get a little piece of how Milwaukee treated these transplant athletes and the impression it left.
To be honest, I left some of these books with a fairly sad revelation of how my city treated some players, and a little more respect for how they persevered. As a ticket holder, we have a limited lens during those 3 hours at the stadium, but it's amazing how little we really know when the lights are down. These books are essential to filling in the gaps. Perhaps it's only fair to the players/coaches to give their version of events.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was known here as a recluse around 1970 (I was told so by dad). Since I was 1 and didn't know better, I never really lost the chip on my shoulder for his perceived attitude and the idea he never wanted to be here. His book, however paints a very different story of religious passion and a man isolated by a closed minded city. The book dramatically opened my eyes to Kareem and his powerful activist side that we see so frequently now. It is truly amazing what a voice he has become, and his books will take you on a stunning journey through his life. It's sobering to reflect and think, if it wasn't him, could the problem really have been us?
Craig Hodges had one of the sweetest shots of anyone in Bucks history. Turns out people didn't like the way he shot his mouth about being black in the NBA. In his book, Hodges discusses that he was basically traded away by the Bucks in the 80's because the management did not like his outspoken ways in regards to his activism. Hodges went on to be shunned by many others within the NBA for his outspoken ways, but still fought for his rights and never let go of his beliefs. Hodges was probably more than our city could handle at the time, which in itself made me sad.
George Karl was a major coup for the Bucks and legitimized the franchise and city in the late 90s. As a big name controversial coach in a timid city, his hiring was a welcome dive into the Bucks getting serious again. He was bold and outspoken and unafraid to take anyone on, including his own players. Karl did some great work in Milwaukee, until he sort of wore out his welcome--something not coincidentally precipitated by the trading of owner Herb Kohl's beloved Ray Allen.
This, of course, leads me to Ray Allen. Drafted out of UConn, he became perhaps one of the most loved Bucks. As part of Karl's Big 3 that included Sam Cassell and Glenn Robinson, the Bucks nearly made it to the top in 2001. Aside from being a brilliant shooter at the time, Ray was also known as a nice guy with a big smile. But nice guys are often an easy mark, and when the Bucks began the process of underachieving in the following years of high expectations, Allen was dealt by Karl for a little more attitude in Gary Payton. When that all went to hell, Karl was fired, and the Bucks were left without one of the most promising players the franchise had seen. It's a trade that still gets debated today.
Vin Baker's story is a stark reminder of the dark days a franchise can have. Vin was drafted onto a terrible team. The Bucks were young, miserable, and according the Baker's book, some(him included) were pretty much high all the time. Then Big Dog Robinson came on board, and he was supposedly high all the time too, but at least they started winning, so that must've made it better. Baker gives us a backstage pass to NBA downtime and the dangerous lifestyle it can breed. He also discusses the debilitating pressures he faced as a high draft choice and franchise face. Vin makes no excuses, and offers his tale of going from star to losing it all in a very heartfelt, honest way. His story is a cautionary tale, and does prove that good things can happen to those who wish to change. It makes me happy to see him on the bench as a new Bucks assistant coach.
Every athlete has a story. It might pay if you are a librarian to look into the local franchises and see if there are any books on or by former local players. Aside from learning about individual lives, the kids may just gain a greater understanding of what was happening culturally in their city during those times, and the struggles these stars faced trying to fit it and live up to their lofty expectations.
Help. My teenage son is obsessed with sneakers. No, really, it's a nasty and expensive habit, and it is out of control. My life is a maze of models, names, and numbers (not to be mistaken for the names and numbers of models). Ultra Boost, NMD, EQT, KDX, Dame 4, Lebron Soldier XI........it's the language of our youth. Comprehend or go home.
In the library now, I don't look at faces--I look at feet. I have earned a little librarian street cred by striking up conversations with all the teens about their shoes. They are amazed I can identify what they are sporting; they are touched someone noticed. Aren't librarians supposed to be hapless dorks? I say to them, "You think I know shoes well--you should see how I command books!" Truth is, I wish I could wear some sleek, trendy sneakers to work, but I can't afford them on a teacher's salary. And whatever money I have, goes to help my son look cool. Talk about a fad that has a firm hold on your wallet!
Anyways, as they say, you have to meet teens on their turf. That's why I want to tell you about a book I just got that might fit your sports shoe obsessed teen patrons well. Sneakers by Rodrigo Corral, Alex French, and Howie Kahn dropped (you'd be wise to familiarize yourself with this word) in late 2017 and already has had an impact on my patrons. If you look on Amazon, you will find a summary that reads:
The book’s carefully-curated list of participants takes readers to the center of the action. Edson Sabajo, owner of Amsterdam’s seminal sneaker boutique, Patta, leads a sneaker hunt that starts in the back-alleys of Philadelphia and ends in the Middle East. Jeff Staple, designer of a pair of sneakers that resells for $6000, recalls the sneaker riot his design kicked off on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 2005. Jim Riswold dishes on making commercials with Michael Jordan. Ronnie Fieg explains the collaborative magic of KITH. Adidas’s Rachel Muscat and Jon Wexler get philosophical about their star collaborator, Kanye West. Nike’s legendary Tinker Hatfield takes a glimpse into the future. Professional tennis player Serena Williams shares an exclusive reveal. And much, much more. From its arresting cover design and thought-provoking interiors to the unprecedented depth of its first-person accounts, Sneakers is an absolute must-have for sneaker lovers and anyone who is interested in design, creative process, street culture, branding, entrepreneurship, art and fashion.
If you don't know what the hell any of these references mean, don't worry--your teens will fill you in, and the book will do the rest.
I have to admit, this book requires a bit of technical background. I'm not sure just anyone could pick this up and immediately connect. It would be helpful to know the sneaker market, or at least spend 4 hours a day on sneaker shopping sites like my son does. I'm a runner, so I was able to connect with a decent amount of the technologies, but I can't hold a candle to what my basketball loving son knows. Clearly, hoops drives the sneaker train--it's the golden cow. Runners, like librarians, are pegged as awkwardly utilitarian. I am unlucky enough to be both. We don't browse stores, we order online. Most runners,(minus the posers) are all function--we're looking for fit, not eye candy. Still, I could recite to you a great history of running shoes and a cult history of various brands and models that would define a clear and storied running shoe culture. Nobody would've predicted years ago that Adidas was going to be one of the hippest shoes on the market. If I would have brought home a pair of low cut Adidas basketball shoes for my son's season 5 years ago, he would've run up to his room and wept. Now, it's the gold standard.
Let's face it, Sneakers is amazingly cool! Visually, it is highly engaging and graphically powerful. In fact, it could almost function as a picture book alone. Still, that's part of the magic. The pictures draw you in and invite you to know more, and then the next thing you know, you're reading! A little history, a little culture, a little design background, and suddenly we have context. The authors lend lots of credibility to the content. Corral has a fabulous resume in art and design. Together with French and Kahn, journalists who are able to frame the narrative in very readable, digestible, and engaging text, you get a very accessible package for any level reader.
This book could be on a shelf, or it could be on a coffee table. You could read it as a complete work, or you could read it in chunks. It's probably what will make it even more popular for teens--to be able to browse through and dig a little deeper into specific areas that pique an interest.
I would say with certainty this is a must-have book for any library serving teens. It is Important for teens to know about the history of a culture or a trend. That pair of new NMD's doesn't exist in a vacuum, there was a groundwork laid generations before. There was vision by designers, there were risks taken, norms pushed, and lines crossed. All great stuff for kids to appreciate the next time they swagger into Foot Locker hoping to score their latest favorite sneaker version.
Well, calls for Jockbrarian's long awaited Best Nonfiction Sports Books for Young Adults of 2017 are hitting fever pitch. Parents are refusing to leave Barnes and Noble until I give them some hot leads for book ideas for their teen sports lovers, and librarians are wondering what impactful 2017 sports titles they need to have on their wish lists. After careful studying, informal polling, and monitoring facial reactions, I have come up with a list of some 2017 (or late December 2016) books that I think are brilliant for any teenage sports fan. If your child enjoys sports and doesn't necessarily like reading, these books are certified by me, Jockbrarian, which should be good for at least something.
The following books I have for you are a mix of every facet of sports and life. They are more than just stories of athletic achievement, they are stories of survival; they are stories of truly heroic athletes who have succeeded not only on the courts and fields, but in the game of life. These books should be added in every youth and adult library collection; they should be on the shelves at home. While they represent only some of the great sports writing that has come out this year, the titles will serve sports fans well and allow them to dig deeper into the lives of some amazing people. Books in the slideshow are linked to Amazon for you to look at--and they are in no particular order!
Enjoy, and Merry Christmas!!
Athletes and performers sometimes view a gig in Wisconsin as a sentence. Most people hate winter. We're not really on the glitzy beaten paths of entertainers--so visitors can be rare. But by God, we do have the Green Bay Packers and Lambeau Field--and we are pretty damn nice people to boot! So when author Andrew Maraniss emailed me and said that he could incorporate a Germantown school visit into his trip to the Frozen Tundra, I jumped at the chance. Maraniss is the author of the book Strong Inside, a biography about Perry Wallace. (here's a link to my review) The fact that Andrew and I had a great common connection in high interest nonfiction sports literature was huge. But the fact that Andrew spoke the language that links all true Wisconsinites together--Packers, Badgers, Bucks, Brewers, and Brats--made him a slam dunk around here.
So on Monday, December 4th, Maraniss stopped by Germantown High School for what would become a memorable visit. The first session I had set up with Andrew was a session with AP Seminar and AP US History students. The AP Seminar students, mostly juniors and seniors, have been working through social justice themes, and are ultimately charged with crafting their own research questions and conducting an in-depth investigation into their subjects. For this group, the focus of the presentation was "Writing for Justice," where Maraniss discussed not only his book, but drew from his articles from The Undefeated. Very specific to this reading was Andrew's piece on Frank Dowsing.
The powerful message of Andrew's talk was that writing DOES matter, and that locating and researching these hidden figures can spark justice. Two things recently happened that I think truly drove this point home for the students. First, Perry Wallace passed away on December 1. The outpouring of tributes and discussion on social media about his death and the nods to the positive impact his story had on society was proof that Andrew's writing had made a profound impact on achieving a measure of justice. The second thing was the recognition of Frank Dowsing by Mississippi State at the Egg Bowl on November 23 for being the first black football player at the school. Maraniss credits at least some of this recognition to his story about Dowsing that had appeared a couple of months prior. Again, to the students, it was valuable evidence that writing matters. It affirmed to them that being a bystander only enforces the status quo, and that by being an "upstander" they can advance justice for those unfairly treated by society.
The next part of the day brought Andrew to Kennedy Middle School to speak with the 7th and 8th grade classes. I was really wondering what type of miracle worker Maraniss was to take on 2 groups of 400 kids! When I taught middle school for a couple of years, they said we were either saints or fools. Andrew was truly a saint. To see the passion and demeanor he had around those kids, and the conviction he had in sharing Perry's story with them was special. Again, the message of being an "upstander" was the focus. IN an age of bullying, and AT an age when bullying primarily happens and hurtful biases formed, it was essential that Andrew's message of not being a bystander when injustice occurs be heard. Through Perry's example, that message resonated in a big way with the kids.
A lasting image I have of the session is of a student approaching Andrew after the presentation saying he wanted to read the book. To find out later this was a student who never reads was even more remarkable. Ahh, the power of a story! As we left, I talked with Andrew about whether creating something that changes only one person's life is worth the effort. In teaching, they say that you need to focus on making an impact one student at a time. In the library, as I research and purchase books for my patrons, I consider this: If a book is only read by one person, but it profoundly impacts and changes their life, was it worth the money and effort? Yes, yes, and yes again. So, to Andrew (and all authors), I say again, never underestimate the value of your work no matter how many people end up buying the book. One life, one reader, is worth it.
Our final stop of the day was back at the high school to speak to the varsity basketball team. After seeing Andrew speak to the UW-Madison Badger basketball team last year about his book, I wanted our athletes to see how being and athlete and an "upstander" were synonymous. As a coach, I've always felt athletes had a certain responsibility to hold themselves to a higher standard. Obviously, this year has been rocky when it comes to athletes and social issues. While we are seeing more athletes not afraid to take a stand for social justice, which is great, we are seeing just as many fans telling them to basically "shut up and play," which is not. Andrew's point to the student athletes was that sitting idle is not an option. At UW, players Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig spoke out for their causes. Andrew stressed: What if Perry Wallace had said nothing? Sure, it took great courage to live through the injustice. But it took even more courage for him to stand up and say what was happening in society was not acceptable. Sometimes, athletes have to use whatever elevated platform they may have to voice opinions and shed light on injustice to a larger audience. Sometimes it may not be popular. Perry Wallace didn't view any of this as an option, he viewed it as an obligation. Maraniss used the life of Wallace to underline the obligation of athletes to be "upstanders" and stand up for themselves, their teammates, classmates, school and personal beliefs.
So, in a day when the death of Perry Wallace was fresh in the mind and heavy on the heart of his biographer Andrew Maraniss, the message of being an "upstander" was carried on through spoken word. Maraniss told the students that he was there talking to them because he knew that Perry would want it that way. There was no room for mourning on this day, with a message of justice and hero named Perry Wallace. Luckily, generations will always have a copy of Strong Inside as a reminder of these messages. Thanks, Andrew, for an amazing day!
Most people think that it's always the librarian suggesting the book to the students. Nothing could be further from the truth. Any librarian worth the books they shelve knows that true gem titles and authors are often found right in the hands of the students. Such was the case last week when I was approached by a wonderful sophomore girl who said she didn't really dig sports books, but knew I did, and thought I might like this guy named Josh Sundquist.
I had never heard of him. But she was so passionate about him, I couldn't help but be moved. I asked her to bring in her personal titles of his, and I did some research myself in the meantime. Am I ever glad I did, because sometimes, you never know what you're missing!
Josh Sundquist is truly an inspiring character, and for that I have chosen him for my Thanksgiving week post. Josh's bio reads that
"At age nine Josh Sundquist was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer and given a fifty percent chance to live. He spent a year on chemotherapy treatments and his left leg was amputated. Doctors declared Josh cured of the disease at age thirteen and he took up ski racing three years later. He trained for the next six years and in 2006 he was named to the US Paralympic Ski Team for the 2006 Paralympics in Turino, Italy."
While Just Don't Fall is mainly the telling of his life story, Josh also has two other titles. We Should Hang Out Sometime is another memoir filled with coming of age anecdotes, and Love and First Sight is a work of coming of age fiction. Both are filled with the same introspective humor and observations of living a life with a disability. All of Josh's works are not only thoughtful, but hopeful.
Sports is full of heroes who have overcome disabilities or other personal obstacles. Frankly, it's all part of what makes sports stories so endearing. There's just something about athletes that gives them tools to take lemons and make lemonade. Josh's story is compelling because he obviously has not let physical barriers impede his quest to live a full life. After the amputation, Josh chooses to not only live life to the fullest, but push the envelope. He takes up downhill skiing, which I can attest is hard enough to do with 2 good legs. Within 6 years, he's on the US Paralympic Ski team!
When I talked to Jessica about what made the book about Josh so special to her, it had nothing to do with sports. She talked about his courage, his sense of humor when dealing with his disability, his perseverance, his hipness (she showed me his cool youtube videos), his honesty, and his ability to motivate. He could've been a hang glider for all she cared.
The mark of a good book is to see the "stars" in the reader's eyes when you talk to them about the book. It's not just knowing the details, it's knowing the meaning. It's not just knowing the accomplishments, it's understanding the struggle to achieve them. It's not just that the completed book becomes a memory, it is that there is a motivation to carry the message forward.
Josh's books succeed because they inspire. I am getting all of them for my high school library, and everyone else should as well. When I get a teen coming up to me with a must-read recommendation, there's something that's clearly working! Josh undoubtedly has a great story, and a voice that speaks to teens, which is truly something to be thankful for. Live life to the fullest, be thankful for what you DO have, and don't be afraid to laugh at yourself a little. Not bad advice for any teen(or middle aged librarian)! Happy Thanksgiving!