Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 329
Author Will Haygood follows the tumultuous events of one school year, 1968–1969, by focusing on two sports teams in the same predominantly African American high school in Columbus, Ohio. In what he calls “one magical season of healing,” East High’s basketball and baseball teams both won their respective state championships. Their wins came about a year after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.. Through its efforts and achievements, the school functions as a microcosm of race relations and social unrest in the United States.
While the student body was almost all black, there were numerous white teachers, coaches, and administrators: the school had just acquired its first black principal, and both teams’ coaches were white. As the teams traveled the state to compete, they faced racial prejudice off the field and court.
Haygood situates the teams, school, city, and state within the larger U.S. context. Tracing the 1960s school desegregation efforts—and their limited success—back through the racial climate of the 1940s-1950s, he places the boys’ experiences within those of their families—many of whom had moved north during the Great Migration—and within U.S. sports. Professional baseball teams, in particular, still overwhelmingly had white players 20 years after pro-baseball famously integrated with Jackie Robinson. Fall 1968 brought John Carlos and Tommie Smith's "protest on the podium" at the Olympics.
The author locates numerous individuals in relation to broader success or failure. Their star player, Eddie Ratleff, for example, soon joined the U.S. Olympic basketball team. Another boy with a family background in sports was Kenny Mizelle, whose father who had played in the “Negro League,” baseball but abandoned his family, including his young son who believed him to be dead.
Haygood excels at profiling individuals and replicating the exciting atmosphere of sports competition. By broadening out this single school’s story, he also creates a meaningful profile of secondary education in an important historical period in the United States.
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