Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 394
Haygood's inspirational, unique nonfiction traces the journey of male athletes from an all-black high school in Ohio during the tumultuous late 60's America. Haygood provides an historical backdrop to the athletes' amazing story:
Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy had tried to do something about it all—the poverty, the absence of fathers that cut to the bone of despair, the pitiful condition of black men and the uneven social fabric of America.
This story is an incredible account of both the basketball and baseball teams of an inner-city school of Columbus, East High School.
For the athletes from East, they competed on and off the field/court for respect, recognition, and equality. As most of the boys came from families who struggled, Haygood states that they were "Black boys in a white world . . . ."
They were poor boys wedged into the turmoil of a nation at war and in the midst of unrest. They were the sons of maids and dishwashers and cafeteria workers, poor as pennies . . . .
Through interviews with family members and friends, Haygood describes the personal lives of the athletes, not hiding the fact that most of the boys lived in single-parent homes. "The boys' fathers were mostly absent."
Despite living in an era of strained race relations, injustice, and blatant prejudice, the black athletes of East rose above the chaos to personal and collective victory.
The basketball and baseball teams excelled, eventually winning state championships back-to-back in both sports due to the talent, dedication, and hard work of the student-athletes, as well as their two white coaches, Bob Hart and Paul Pennell. Haygood describes them as, "big-hearted men who had a social conscience."
Another key figure in the success of the teams and the high school was their committed principal, Jack Gibbs. As the first black principal of East, he wanted to protect the students from the crime-ridden city and give them as many opportunities to succeed as possible. So, the school "became part progressive laboratory, part military school, a place that had high expectations for student achievement."
This amazing story speaks to the character of the athletes and ability to overcome:
The proud black boys never complained about the well-to-do schools and all their fancy equipment. They realized they didn't have the luxury of escaping the crazy and murderous times. They were in the center of it all.
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