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!
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.