The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Coach, about sixty years old, has lived in his nostalgia-filled home nearly all of his life. In a ritual that he has continued for several years, he and four of his “boys,” as he still calls them, celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their victory in the 1952 Pennsylvania state high school basketball championship. Prominently displayed in the parlor, which provides the sole setting for the play, is the large silver trophy award with the players’ names engraved in it.

George, the current mayor of the town and a none-too-bright former insurance salesman, is facing a reelection battle against a popular reform candidate, Norman Sharmen, who is Jewish. Since George won four years earlier with a mere thirty-two votes—thanks to the Coach’s spirited support—the mayor expects a difficult campaign. Thus, the get-together is also an occasion to map out campaign strategy and solidify the group’s backing. The latter includes the expected financial contribution of Phil, a shady but successful businessman engaged in the toxic practice of open-coal strip mining, a business facilitated by George, who, as mayor, has permitted Phil to have access to lucrative land tracts. Phil seeks release from personal stress by driving his sports car at breakneck speed on the highway and by philandering with various girls and matrons in town, including Marion, George’s wife.

The Coach continues to treat his thirty-eight-year-old “boys” as he has done since the championship season, trying to keep alive the old basketball-court spirit. In fact, even though forced into early retirement for hitting an offensive student, the Coach’s still uses maxims about striving for excellence, enduring pain, building teamwork, and accepting nothing less than success. Initially the group relives the final ten seconds of the championship game, when, one point behind, the absent fifth player, Martin Roads, scored the winning basket. Martin left town soon after, apparently feeling ashamed and guilty for following the single-minded Coach’s order to foul the star black player on the opposing team: Martin was unable to persuade the Coach to return the trophy.

However, soon the magic of the evening is broken as Phil starts to inventory George’s blunders as mayor: higher taxes, more unemployment, an unpleasant...

(The entire section is 949 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Coach’s parlor reeks of nostalgia. The bachelor’s faded, old-fashioned living room—the single set in the play—is richly evocative. There is a Tiffany lampshade, a Stromberg-Carlson radio console, and a gun rack on the wall. Framed pictures of distinguished Americans are in evidence, notably those of Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, as well as that of Senator McCarthy, the anti-communist crusader. The large silver trophy is on the table.

The dialogue is fast-paced, sharp, bawdy, and often funny, with its locker-room humor reflecting Jason Miller’s gift for language and his sensitivity to the dynamics of character. The numerous racial, ethnic, and anti-Semitic slurs betray a conservative, even reactionary, bent. There is Jew-baiting, communist hunting, and money-shuffling in a town full of bigotry and shady dealings. Miller’s grasp of small-town mediocrity and attitudes may stem from his formative years in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

The actors move in and out of the downstairs living room where all the action takes place. Thus, only Tom and George are present at the play’s opening as the other characters are away buying fried chicken and more booze for the party. In subsequent scenes, the Coach, who recently endured surgery and suffers sudden pain, and George, upset by the play’s sordid revelations, are taken to the bedroom upstairs.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

In 1972, the United States was in serious trouble on several fronts. Though incumbent president Richard M. Nixon was overwhelmingly reelected...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

That Championship Season is a drama set in time contemporary with when it was written, 1972. The action is confined...

(The entire section is 548 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1972: The musical Grease opens on Broadway. It is a nostalgic look at the 1950s, and a prime example of the 1970s obsession...

(The entire section is 279 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Compare and contrast Biff Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman with James Daley or one of the other former athletes in...

(The entire section is 139 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

That Championship Season was adapted as a film in 1982. This version was written and directed by Jason Miller. It starred Bruce Dern...

(The entire section is 82 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

No Exit, a play by Jean-Paul Sartre written in 1944, also takes place in one room and focuses on the personal revelations of a group...

(The entire section is 137 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Barnes, Clive, ‘‘Stage: That Championship Season,’’ in The New York Times, September 15, 1972, p. 43....

(The entire section is 293 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Guernsey, Otis L., Jr., ed. “That Championship Season.” In The Best Plays of 1971-1972. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1972.

Kim, Yun-cheol. “Degradation of the American Success Ethic: Death of a Salesman, That Championship Season, and Glengarry Glen Ross.” Journal of English Language and Literature 37 (Spring, 1991): 233-248.

Miller, Jason. “On the Set: An Interview with Jason Miller.” The New Yorker 48 (May 20, 1972): 33.

Shelton, Frank W. “Sports and the Competitive Ethic: Death of a Salesman and That Championship Season.” Ball State University Forum 20, no. 2 (1979): 17-21.

Simon, John. “That Championship Season.” Hudson Review 25 (1972): 616-625.

Vanderwerken, David L. “‘We Owe It All to You, Coach’: Teaching That Championship Season.” Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature 14 (Fall, 1996): 241-245.