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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen » User review

A team and a town

  • Feb 21, 2010
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This book is the chronicle of one season for a high school football team in a small town in western Kansas. While that may not sound too enticing to some readers, there's in fact quite a bit going on in this book that elevates it into the category of pretty darn good sports literature. Even readers who don't have much interest in football, or high schools, or even Kansas may find a lot to like here.

Smith Center sounds like a fairly average rural farming community. What makes them stand out, however, is the Redmen, their local high school football team. When New York Times reporter Joe Drape begins telling their story, the Redmen are preparing to begin a new season, one they hope will end with the team's winning its fifth consecutive state championship title and maintaining an undefeated streak lasting just as long. There's some question, though, whether the current crop of seniors are good enough, and unified enough, to maintain the standards set by their predecessors. Is this the year when everything goes bust?

Joe Drape tells a good story, one that reminded me more than once of Stefan Fatsis' Wild and Outside: How a Renegade Minor League Revived the Spirit of Baseball in America's Heartland about the impact of sports loyalties on small mid-western towns. "Our Boys" has that to an even greater extent, though, because the while the fabled Smith Center Redmen have a statewide reputation for fearsome football, they're still -- as Drape makes clear -- a bunch of kids. It'd be too easy to label this "a coming of age story," but there's certainly some of this here. It's also a look at the impact a good coach can have on a community, a school, and, again, a bunch of kids.

There are any number of ways a story could have gone adrift, and Drape has skillfully avoided them. There is a lot of football here, to be sure, but "Our Boys" is not a play-by-play almanac of practices and games. We get to know players, coaches, and families, but our look at them is respectful and appropriate, not voyeuristic. Best of all, perhaps, Drape resists the temptation to make "Our Boys" any sort of allegory about the crisis in family farming, the decline of the rural way of life, the tension between athletics and academics, or any of the other Big Issues you might expect a New York Times writer to flirt with. This is a story of a team and the community that surrounds and supports it. It's straightforward, well-written and insightful, and by the end of the season you might even find you have a bit of an emotional connection to the Redmen yourself. Nicely done.

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Andrew S. Rogers ()
Ranked #362
Mostly, I'm a moderately prolific Amazon.com reviewer who's giving Lunch a try as another venue for my reviews.
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About this book


Although Drape traveled to the Midwest to chronicle a record-setting high school football season, the tale he spins ends up being one that transcends athletics, a story of adolescence and smalltown life. Smith Center, Kans., is a sleepy locale 90 miles from the nearest McDonald's, a place with more windmills than people. But it's also home to Kansas's biggest football powerhouse, a team that entered the fall of 2008 with 56 straight victories and four consecutive championships. From the opening practice to the Redmen's final game, Drape flawlessly paints a picture of how Smith Center achieves perfection year after year. More importantly, he delves into the individual stories on the team: the tough but kindhearted coach who built a dynasty from nothing; the sure-fire college prospect; and the assistant coach's son, trying to live up to his father's legacy. All the while, Drape details the friendships he develops away from the field with the parents and other townspeople, and the mutual joy they bring the Redmen. With a clear sensitivity toward the difficulties facing the Smith Center players, along with more than a dash of humor, Drape gives the reader a team worth rooting for.(Aug.)
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ISBN-10: 0805088903
ISBN-13: 978-0805088908
Author: Joe Drape
Publisher: Times Books

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