Why run? I'd be a rich man if I got a buck for every time someone asked me that question, and I'd be richer if I could supply an answer. But I don't want to. Truth be told, running is one of the most deeply personal experiences on this earth. It is spiritual in nature, and for that reason, every one who runs has their own unique reasons and motivations for doing so.
I just finished the book Running With Raven by Laura Lee Huttenbach. This book pays great homage to a man who started running to take control of his life back in 1975, and has literally not skipped a day since! Is he obsessive? Sure--find me a runner who isn't! I'd run during a hurricane, too! But if you are stuck on how crazy his streak is, you are missing the motivation. Robert "Raven" Kraft runs because it makes him feel alive. He draws in the thousands of people who have followed his daily pilgrimage of 8 miles on the Miami beaches because they are game for the quest. From all walks of life, from all levels of society, he is joined on his run by those seeking hope, redemption, or a simple sense of belonging. Along with the fascinating life of Raven, we get to know a unique cast of characters who join Raven on his 8 mile daily trek. He gives them all unique names, which only adds to the spirit of being a member of this ragged posse! In other words, what he has created is a "community" of runners.
No doubt I loved every minute of the book. Huttenbach does a great job telling Raven's story and doing justice to his humble intentions. This book should be in every library, and especially a high school library. I know on my high school running teams, the feeling of being part of some secret cult of madmen who run miles for the hell of it is a badge of honor. Aren't all high school kids longing to belong in some circle of social existence, anyways? Young runners and weekend warriors alike will find Raven inspiring. Like any good sports story, it will reinforce to readers that running is bigger than the act itself. It will reinforce the idea that everyone has life stories to tell, and there is no better venue for kinship and conversation than a good 8 mile run! I promise this book will make it quickly through your running crew if you pass a copy around.
One of the high school runners I coach is hobbling through her second 1000 meter interval. Tears are streaming down her red cheeks as she struggles. I pull her off and give some words of encouragement. We talk about her painful knee. She goes to the trainer, we develop a plan to get her well, and she's back racing happily in a week.
Another girl strides effortless through the park, clipping target times in intervals with ease. She finishes, I give her encouragement--tell her she looks fantastic. Little do I know this girl is hobbling inside. Overwhelmed by the stress of keeping her top spot on the team, the load of 5 AP classes, and the fear of gaining weight and growing hips that will slow her down in the future, she suffers from depression. In a constant state of worry about disappointing herself, her parents, friends, coaches, and whomever else is spectating her life, she is consumed by a race she fears she'll never win.
Mental issues are often the most invisible injuries in sports.
I've coached both boys and girls prep running teams for the past 25 years. Each sex has their own unique challenges in regards to running, but in working with female teams, I have found their paths to be most taxing. Most female runners are highly intelligent, highly driven, and emotional. With brains wired to not just succeed, but succeed on the highest level, these girls are satisfied with little that dips below the line of perfection. One may think it's a blessing to be so driven, but in many female runners, it's a wicked curse. In a sport where girls are constantly measured by fitness and the tic of a clock, female runners are highly critical (and judged) not only of their improvement curve, but the curve of their own bodies. I know, I have daughters who run.
When Kate Fagan came out with her book What Made Maddy Run: The Secret Struggles and Tragic Death of an All-American Teen this summer, I was encouraged that someone was addressing the mental issues of a female runner. The "All-American" label of a young female runner is in itself often a curse. Nothing conjures up images of perfection, both in looks and performance, than being labeled an "All-American girl." It spawns a self imposed pressure to live up to this lofty ideal, which often leads to depression when things begin to not work out. Oh, and did I mention the jealousy that rears it's head on social media by those critiquing teen peers who love to see the perfect fail?
The beauty of high interest nonfiction books is they have the ability to connect with readers through highly intimate stories of another's personal personal struggle. Fagan does just that as she writes about Madison Holleran, a picture perfect girl on the outside with looks, friends, talent, and opportunity abound. On the inside, she is a mess. Struggling with depression that stems mainly from a self-imposed and societal set of standards that are nearly impossible to perfect, she takes her life.
Fagan's book is a "must-have" for every high school in the country. It's just that important. While you are at it, buy Amanda Beard's memoir called In the Water They Can't See You Cry. If there is any wish for me as a coach, parent, and librarian, it's that a quietly struggling female athlete will cross paths with Maddy's story, pick it up, and find some guidance from Maddy's spirit. Or maybe a parent will pick up this book and recognize some ever subtle signs from their daughter. Books CAN save lives, and this one fits that category. It just may spark the honest conversation that a female runner needs to have with herself about the issues she may never outrun.
I wanted to save one of my favorite reads over the summer for today. As a nice starting out point for the blog this school year and a quiet way to reflect on such a tragic day in history, I want to recommend The Red Bandanna by Tom Rinaldi. The 2016 book is highly appropriate for September 11, as it is the story of Welles Crowther, a young man of huge heart and epic courage, who ran back up the stairs of the burning World Trade Center tower instead of down to safety. A man only recognized by his trademark red bandanna, who ushered injured people to safety while thinking nothing of the consequences of remaining in the soon to collapse tower. The book relives that tragic morning, the impact Welles had on people when he was alive, and the legacy he leaves behind.
You may ask what this has to do with sports. Welles Crowther was an athlete. He was an undersized underdog who overcame whatever he lacked physically with heart. At the end of the day, he willed himself to become a college football player at Boston College. As a coach, these are the guys I love to have on my team. I have worked with plenty of talented athletes who lacked passion and flamed out, wasting whatever God given talent they were gifted on being mediocre. Most were, not coincidentally, selfish in life. Then there are the kids like Welles, who harness their passion to overcome physical deficiencies and rise above those with greater potential. They are driven by life-they are winners. Not coincidentally, they are selfless. These are also the kinds of guys, like Welles, that are willing to stay in burning buildings to help others out--putting their own safety far down the list of priorities. They face danger, not run from it, because it's in their DNA.
Sadly, Not many of the kids we have in high school today remember 9/11. It's a thought; a remembrance on morning announcements each September 11. It may be a fascinating episode on The History Channel, or a story told by mom or dad, but these 16 year old's were just literally opening their eyes to the world that year.
This is why we must get books like The Red Bandanna in the hands of high school kids. These heroic stories must be kept alive and passed to new generations. I have decided at the beginning of each school year, I am going to give a copy of The Red Bandanna to a young athlete to read. This student will speak to an athletic team on 9/11 about Welles and how he exemplified courage, heroism, and heart--not only in athletics, but in life. Welles story is a great reminder to kids that they are both responsible to themselves in their actions, and responsible to society each day.
Nothing beats the optimism of summer break! A chance for kids to relax, unwind, and not touch a school related skill for a solid 3 months! Tis the season for the sports nuts(parents and kids) to parade through youth sport camps, swing the bat every day, shuttle off to AAU contests in exotic locales like Iowa, or throw some iron around to beef up for the upcoming fall seasons.
Imagine this, though.......What if we carved some time out of our busy schedules and promoted another skill; another activity to exercise an often neglected summer muscle. The mind!
It's always interesting to me that a parent will demand 500 shots a day in the driveway, but not have a fleeting thought about doing 20 pages a day of reading. Are the two not equals?? Here's an idea: Let's keep our kids motivated to read this summer, and if they are not motivated readers, why not use the opportunity of a few homeworkless months to introduce some fantastic books.
I'll make it easy for you.
What I have included here is a list of 10 amazing nonfiction sports books that have been popular in not only my school library this year, but in many youth libraries throughout the country. These books are timely, relevant, well written, meaningful, and engaging. They teach, inform, enlighten, and entertain. If you are a public librarian, put these out on a "sports summer reading" display. If you are a parent, buy these books and place them in strategically obvious spots around the house for your teen. Or, you can just suggest them.
Quite simply, let's make it a goal to get our young athletes reading over the summer. It doesn't matter if they are reading fantasy, mystery, or sappy love stories. But since sports is already in their vocabulary, here is a list of sports related books that are sure to keep them interested and engaged. Just maybe--just maybe.......you'll find them outside lounging comfortably up against the basketball hoop pole, legs propped up on the ball, enjoying a good book. Dream on!!!!!!!
Here's the list--in no particular order. As a side note, just because a book is a young readers edition does not make it too "kiddy, or cheesy." Quite the contrary, I have found these books make young readers feel like adults, and reluctant boy readers feel like they have tackled something significant. Enjoy!
Strong inside : Perry Wallace and the collision of race and sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss
Brief summary: Story of Perry Wallace, a talented student athlete, who becomes the first African-American basketball player in the SEC at Vanderbilt University during the tumultuous late 1960s
Why? Kids are shocked to discover what African-American college players like Perry Wallace had to endure to participate in a game they loved during the civil rights era down south. Often I hear from kids while reading, "Did this really happen?"
Who would it be best for? Specific young readers edition suitable for grades 4 and above. Maraniss also has an adult version of the book that would be great as a parent read-along.
The Playbook: 52 rules to aim, shoot, and score in this game called life by Kwame Alexander
Brief summary: Poetry and inspiring lessons about the rules of life, as well as uplifting quotes from popular athletes in this motivational and inspirational book.
Why? This is a nice little book that will provide lots of inspiration for the young athlete, opening many doors of conversation about the connections between sports and life.
Who would it be best for? Specifically for young readers probably middle school and early high school.
Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team by Steve Sheinkin
Brief summary: Football and Native American history come together in this true story of how Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner created the legendary Carlisle Indians football team.
Why? Kids were astounded to read about some real origins of the violent game of football, and, as one student put it, what a "beast" of an athlete Jim Thorpe was!
Who would it be best for? Specific Young readers edition suitable for grades 4 and above
Fire in my eyes : an American warrior's journey from being blinded on the battlefield to gold medal victory by Brad Snyder and Tom Sileo
Brief summary: Exactly one year after losing his sight in a blast while serving in Afghanistan, Snyder wins a gold medal in swimming at the 2012 Paralympic Games in London.
Why? Great story of courage and overcoming odds. Kids found Snyder's story extremely inspirational and unique. Stories of war heros are huge in high school. Combining war and sports is always a winner.
Who would it be best for? Adult format but very readable for grades 6 and up
Gunslinger : the remarkable, improbable, iconic life of Brett Favre by Jeff Pearlman
Brief summary: A biography of NFL quarterback and Green Bay Packer great Brett Favre, covering the life and football career of this colorful star
Why? Brett Favre was one of the most colorful and crazy characters ever to play the game. His true love for the game and freewheeling style had kids in awe. Everyone loves a rebel!
Who would it be best for? Adult format and lengthy--probably for the high school and above crowd
Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Brief summary: Kareem shares stories and wisdom from his decades-long relationship with legendary UCLA coach John Wooden
Why? Are you kidding, a chance to peer into the minds and friendship of two legendary figures in basketball!! What's not to love!
Who would it be best for? Adult format --probably for the upper middle / high school and above crowd
Days of knight : how the general changed my life by Kirk Haston.
Brief summary: Kirk Haston discusses his time playing college basketball for Bobby Knight at Indiana University and the lessons he learned from "The General"
Why? Kids loved the lessons of Knight and his often unique (bizarre) methods of motivation! Haston is very engaging and easy to relate to as a player--the kind of guy you root for.
Who would it be best for? Adult format, but easily written with many sidebars and "Knightisms"-probably grade 6 and up
Rising above : how 11 athletes overcame challenges in their youth to become stars
Gregory Zuckerman with Elijah and Gabriel Zuckerman.
Brief summary: Athletes find discipline, hope, and inspiration on the playing field, rising above their challenging life circumstances--something many of our kids can relate to.
Why? What young athlete has not faced adversity yet? Whether injuries, home life, relationships, or disappointment have knocked on the door, this book shows any kid that there is hope.
Who would it be best for? For young readers probably grade 3/4 to early/mid high school.
Shoe dog : a memoir by the creator of Nike by Phil Knight
Brief summary: Nike founder and CEO Phil Knight shares his story of how Nike came to be the mega corporation it is today
Why? Every school kid relates to Nike! Many who have read this were fascinated by the back story of the company and how Knight created this giant. A story they never knew!
Who would it be best for? Adult format--probably for the upper middle/ high school and above crowd
Legends : the best players, games, and teams in basketball by Howard Bryant.
Brief summary: A fun discussion of the best hardwood heroes. From Magic Johnson to Michael Jordan to LeBron James to Steph Curry, the book is a great collection of NBA champions and superstars.
Why? This book has started some great argument among kids about numerous basketball related issues. Now....are the Warriors good or bad for NBA basketball??!!
Who would it be best for? Specifically for young readers probably grade 3/4 to early/mid high school.
A couple of years ago, my then 10 year old son was constructing a rather elaborate Christmas gift list. To my surprise, at the top of the list was a Kareem Abdul Jabbar jersey--signed, of course. My first few thoughts were: 1. How cool that a LeBron era kid would acknowledge an iconic player from long before his time! 2. All that TV watching of ESPN secondary channels is paying off! 2. I'm a librarian for Pete's sake--does he really think I make enough money to buy a signed Kareem jersey!?
So, I settled on a framed poster. Kareem(Lew Alcindor) in his Milwaukee Bucks uniform. Forget the Lakers era. My love of Kareem started with the coin flip in 1969, when the only hazard coinage posed in my life was choking. But I wanted my son to know Kareem the Buck, so it was important to me that he was donning green. Anyways, the poster came with a promise we would find Kareem someday and get it signed, but we're still getting around to that.
Anyways, it has been fun sharing with my son the story of Kareem. It's not just a story about who he was as a player, but who he's become in the era afterwards. After all, the measure of an athlete is not the highlight reel from the court, but the wake of influence that he leaves while flying into the sunset. It's amazing to me just how much of an influential author Jabbar has become. I truly don't think many people realize the catalog of books he has put out since his playing days. Known as a reclusive figure in his Buck days, I'm not sure the Milwaukee crowd has a fair grasp as to just what a champion of the human spirit this man has become.
My most anticipated book of the year has been his latest book, Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court. Just released a week or so ago, the book details the intersection of two basketball legends, Coach John Wooden of UCLA and Kareem. Those of us who have read Coach Wooden's They Call Me Coach or The Pyramid of Success know of his unique ability to mentor basketball players not only in the game, but in life. Jabbar opens the curtains into his playing days at UCLA and his successful life afterwards and let's us see just how much influence the brilliant John Wooden had on him. It's a book of basketball, coaching, mentoring, philosophy and respect sewn into one. One thing is clear, we cannot grow into the people we wish to become without powerful mentors in our life. I'm sure Jabbar appreciates Wooden as a great sage and hand who graced his life, and whose spirit will continue to nudge him to greatness.
It's noble to hand a book like this to any teenager. It needs to be in every high school library. At a time when teens need to know that mentors are real and people can still be trusted in this world, Jabbar shows them that wisdom is found in relationships. Just because Jabbar and Wooden are not as freshly present in the memory of kids like LeBron or Coach K doesn't make their story any less important. There is no truth that wisdom ever ages out of style.
I want my son to appreciate Coach W, Kareem and their relationship, and the power of positive people in life. He will read the book with me this summer, and just maybe Santa will be watching so next Christmas he doesn't forget to load that signed jersey on the sleigh!
Moncrief. Cummings. Nelly. Hodges. MECCA. There never was such a beautiful time for basketball in my life. As a teenager, I basked in the glory of my Milwaukee Bucks, who as Hodges wisely noted, were one of the top NBA teams of the 80's. Every kid in Wisconsin emulated those teams. On the battered hoop hanging from my garage, we would drive to the hole in the classic Sidney Moncrief two handed, what we'd call "old-man" approach. We'd shoot short range "pancake" jumpers emulating that odd but effective Terry Cummings shooting stroke. And of course, we'd migrate to the outer reaches of the court-in my case, the sideyard lawn and my mom's prized flower beds, to shoot jumpers like Craig Hodges. We'd rise up mimicking Hodges textbook high-forehead pre-release ball carriage and loft bombs from beyond the arc, in a day when the NBA 3 point line seemed like half-court. Not since Brian Winters had I loved such a shooter!
I had forgotten about Craig Hodges. My teenage years are long in the rear view mirror, and the post 80's Bucks have been a revolving door of mediocrity. When I saw Hodges was coming out with a book, I was surprised to say the least. What was it about--shooting? Hodges wasn't Bird, or Magic, or Dr. J. He didn't have those credentials, so why would he put out a book?
In your teenage years, you fall into the trap of only seeing the player--not the man. Stats are king, image is everything. Happily, as I discovered in his new book Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter, there was much to learn about Craig Hodges--and much to appreciate.
You can't emulate activism in the driveway, and what fan has time to notice a player fighting for rights when there's a 7 game series with the Celtics to worry about. Hodges takes the reader through his life--from his start in Chicago, to his college days in California at Long Beach State, and through his pro career and beyond. Hodges highlights not only his rise as an exceptionally talented basketball player, but his mission as an activist for the rights of players and African Americans. He also spends time weaving in the importance of family and other role models in his life. One of Hodges best known moments was during the 1992 Chicago Bulls NBA title visit to the White House, he delivered a handwritten letter to President George H. W. Bush demanding that he do more to address racism and economic inequality. I was personally fascinated by the chapters about his time in Milwaukee, which ended in an odd trade to the Phoenix Suns. Discovering the truth that the Bucks traded him because they did not like his outspoken activism was a shock to me. In a way it was this type of outspokenness that most likely cost Hodges the recognition he deserved during his time in the NBA.
As many athletes have discovered, speaking out comes at a cost. But guys like Hodges have paved the way. The Andrew Maraniss telling of Perry Wallace as the first Black basketball player in the SEC in his book Strong Inside is another recent book that addresses heroic examples of athletes fighting for justice in society. Spawning from this(hopefully), is a vein of athletes who are not simply content to skate by on their athletic resumes. They know there is a higher calling in the world, and perhaps they have a bigger pulpit than us everyday joe's to call attention to injustice.
Hodges book is extremely readable. At times it seems like a cool conversation he is having with the reader around a kitchen table. Hodges is a very honest narrator. There is not a preachy tone to the book, but rather an undertone of awareness and curiosity that Hodges breathes throughout his life. In this manner, I feel it would play extremely well with teens. I have faith that there are many young teenage athletes out there who are curious about what's going on in the world. They have no time for someone bullying them into activism. What Hodges urges in his book is for kids to be naturally curious about their world, and if there are things that they feel are wrong or unfair, don't be afraid to take a stand. Hodges came to these understandings through his heart. He wrote letters, he petitioned, and talked to authority figures. He showed the same tenacity with the rock as he did his rights.
I don't think kids will recall Craig Hodges. He's not Jordan or Bird. But that shouldn't stop any school or YA librarian from buying this book. Kids will quickly discover Hodges as an example of an athlete standing up fairness, equality and a better society, which is a lesson every kid could benefit from. I miss you Craig!
The 1942 Wisconsin Badgers football team had a host of individual stars, including two-time All-American end Dave Schreiner, fullback Pat Harder, and halfback Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch. Their coach was the stubborn and respected Harry Stuhldreher, best known as the one-time quarterback of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen. In the final-fling atmosphere typical on college campuses as the first year of U.S. involvement in World War II was winding down, the Badgers climbed their way up the rankings and ultimately became one of the greatest college football teams of all time.Stars and benchwarmers alike knew that each game brought them closer to military service. The Badgers scattered into the various branches-and around the world-shortly after the season. Not all were asked to be heroic in battle, but many were, and they answered the challenge. Not all of them returned, and the circumstances of at least one battle death have been shrouded in mystery for six decades.
It has been a fantastic year for school aged kids who like sports books! As I have spoken before, there is an important trend of authors developing young adult versions of nonfiction sports stories. These authors are tackling tough social issues through the lens of sports history, giving younger audiences who may struggle with such adult concepts a story on their own level.
In December, Andrew Maraniss completed a young reader edition of Strong Inside, the biography of Perry Wallace who was the first black player to compete in the highly segregated SEC. This past winter, author Steve Sheinkin published a fantastic book called Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team. Sheinkin has written numerous books highlighting important historical events with a knack for unfolding them in an appealing manner for young readers (which is no small task). Undefeated looks to be his first truly tied to sports. Like Maraniss, Sheinkin is masterfully nudging kids to become socially conscious citizens through these emotional and gripping stories.
While Undefeated is a fascinating look at Jim Thorpe as a person and athlete, it's an eye opening look at how Native Americans were treated in the United States in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The book is almost like studying 3 distinct facets of history that merge at one time. First, there is a look into the Carlisle School itself and how this educational system was formed in order to impose white values on the Native American kids, essentially erasing them of their culture. Next, the book is a neat history of the game of football. I think kids will be fascinated to read about the extremely violent origins of the game and how it was nearly banished because of life threatening and sometimes fatal injuries obtained in matches. Development of wrinkles like the forward pass and misdirection plays are all part of this radical era that matured the game from the brutal thugfest it was at that time.
Finally, main characters like Jim Thorpe and Pop Warner star in their own biographies, proving they are great models for the budding athlete. Thorpe's toughness and will to succeed are the star of Undefeated, and Pop Warner's innovative game management and motivational ability color him as just the right man to work with the young Indians who were willing to go to any length to play the game they loved.
The title may be a little deceiving as the book itself is not primarily about one season. The arc of time will take the reader through the start of Carlisle School and the youth of Thorpe and Warner, unifying them through the bond of Carlisle football and their quest for greatness in the sport. Like most titles in this new "young reader" category, the book is cleverly constructed with historical visuals to guide the way and manageable 5-7 page chapters that move the story along without becoming too weighty for a young reader. Still , the book feels nicely adultish, and I would challenge any adult to pick up the book and not become quickly engrossed in it!
Like Strong Inside, this book will succeed in any library from elementary on up. Not only will the reader who is looking for sports action love the book, but educators, parents, and librarians will value Undefeated for it's call to social consciousness in young adults, and the great example it sets of athletes who made their mark not only in sports, but in the world as well.
In honor of international women's day, I posted a stat this week on my twitter account about nonfiction sports titles and females. Consider this: In my high school library, only 9 percent of nonfiction sports titles are checked out to females. Also consider: Of the nonfiction sports titles I have, only 8 percent feature females as the main subject. How pathetic.
Why is this happening, and is anyone at fault? Like anything else, the answer is complicated. No, librarians are not ignoring girls when it comes to sports--nor are girls ignoring sports when it comes to books. I have a strong hunch that content, or lack of content, is driving this statistic. I could really talk at length about this, but I will leave it here with a simple point: We need more nonfiction books that focus on some of the great female athletes we have seen throughout history and those who are paving the way for female sports today.
With that thought, I want to highlight a new book that has most of the qualities that will win over new young females interested in reading about sports. If you remember Simone Biles, the stunning US gymnast who stole our hearts during the 2016 Rio games with that infectious smile and flawless talent, you'll want to consider her new book, Courage to Soar. With help from award winning author, Michelle Burford, Biles crafts her inspiring life story with the simplicity and grace of one of her fabulous floor routines!
Biles is s strong female role model who has succeeded in her sport. Her book, however, is not a resume of accomplishments nor does it attempt to exist as a self serving "look what I have done" expose that some athletes fall into with biographies. Courage to Soar is more of a manual on how to achieve dreams and life goals. For Biles, sport is the prop, life is the goal. It's the way things should be. Biles shows an amazing maturity for her youthful age, and tumbles through the numerous life lessons she has learned along the way to stardom.
Put out through a christian values press in Vondervan Publishing, Biles makes no bones about her faith playing a huge part in her life. Good for her. It goes nicely along with the current trend of athletes who are not afraid to credit God as the originator of all success. While some of these displays tend to be showy, Biles faith comes across as genuine and sincere.
I read a review about Courage To Soar that concluded it was a great title for young gymnasts. No--it's a good title for ANYONE. You don't need to be a gymnast to get something from this story. If you only see the sport itself, you are missing the bigger picture. Perhaps this is part of the bigger problem. Girls are being told that they can only engage and enjoy a book if it fits their bill. Really? Does one have to be a meth user to appreciate the struggles that a narrator elaborates on in a memoir about drug addiction?
Let's steer all females to a book like Courage To Soar. Couage, faith, values, and life balance are lessons for everyone, not just athletes...and not just guys. Let's allow more female athletes like Biles to work their magic on school aged kids by putting these books on our shelves.