Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 555

Fourteen-year-old Scott Kramer loves football and is a dedicated tackle. He puts his heart and energy into the game and is rewarded with praise from his coach and teammates until marijuana, placed there by an unknown person, is discovered in his duffel bag. The moment Scott sees it, he tries...

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Fourteen-year-old Scott Kramer loves football and is a dedicated tackle. He puts his heart and energy into the game and is rewarded with praise from his coach and teammates until marijuana, placed there by an unknown person, is discovered in his duffel bag. The moment Scott sees it, he tries to hide it from the coach. Bounced off the team in disgrace, Scott is dismayed by the event and does not know how to handle it.

Scott makes other wrong decisions before he clears his name. He decides not to tell his parents. They were hurt badly when his brother was involved with drugs, and he does not want to inflict that hurt again. Of course, they find out anyway and because of Scott's silence, are hesitant to believe him innocent. Some of the other players tell the coach that Scott has smoked tobacco cigarettes. When asked, Scott admits that he tried them once, but only once. Since he had not told his mother this before, she begins to doubt her son's honesty.

Kear Nguyen, Scott's best friend, offers to quit the team since Scott has been unfairly booted off, but Scott convinces Kear not to quit, so Kear finds another team for Scott. The Cougars are a tough team, but Scott is relieved to be playing again and tries not to alienate the players. At one of the Cougar games, Kear's wallet is stolen and Kear finds it in Scott's duffel bag. Now even Kear, Scott's loyal defender, turns on him.

Although Jerilea Townsend, Scott's girlfriend, believes in his innocence and helps him discover the culprit, she is mad at first because Scott did not tell her the cigarettes were marijuana cigarettes. Minor characters abound as the other players on both teams contribute to Scott's feelings about himself. Some call him names because of the drugs, others remain neutral. Most of the players are presented as balanced characters and serve as red herrings for the mystery. The two coaches are contrasted as good and bad. Coach Dresso plays by the rules and treats the players fairly. Coach Zacks wants to win with no thought about sportsmanship and teaches his players to play mean.

Matt Christopher skillfully and accurately portrays the uneasy, restless period of adolescence through Scott's character. His theme and variations are boldly stated throughout the book. Mrs. Kramer asks her son, "Don't you think you've gotten into enough trouble already for not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?" Had Scott told his coach about the marijuana instead of trying to hide it, had he told Jerilea the entire truth about the cigarettes, had he told his mother about the cigarette smoking when he was younger, he would not have incurred their doubts. Several times Scott's thoughts are blanket moral statements. He does not talk back to a player who is ridiculing him because "That would just bring me down to his level." Another time he thinks "He could get in trouble accusing somebody he really wasn't sure about." His attitude toward football is to "play clean, hard football. And to have fun." If the mean Cougars and Coach Zacks do not like that, they can boot him off the team. "I've been a player without a team before. I can be a player without a team again."

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