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Check It Out

Courier Article by David Locker
Sunday, November 4, 2007

Football Books Reveal Journeys of True Champs

This year's One Book One Community selection, H.G. Buzz Bissinger's Friday Night Lights, is a rousing sports book that also explores issues of race, politics, religion and economic and social differences that any community can relate to. Bissinger was a Pulitzer Prize-winning Philadelphia journalist when he decided to move his young family to Odessa, Texas, to cover the 1988 season of the mighty Permian High School Panthers. What he found was a town gone nuts about football.

On autumn Friday nights they gathered in their $5.6 million dollar stadium to worship young football players they treated as gods. For the town to feel good about itself, nothing less than a state championship would do. Friday Night Lights has the making of an American classic and has already been made into a major motion picture and network television series.

Here are some other football books to tackle:

Hurricane Season: A Coach, His Team, and Their Triumph in the Time of Katrina by Neal Thompson (Free Press, 2007).

You don't have to do it the Permian way to be a highly successful high school football team. The John Curtis Christian School in New Orleans has won even more championships, but they have their priorities straight.

Thompson was going to follow in Bissinger's footsteps and observe a season of a championship caliber high school football team. But he and the team's season were interrupted in a major way by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

The Curtis Patriots had just finished their grueling August two-a-day workout sessions when Katrina hit. Coaches and players found themselves living in motels, rented apartments and homes of relatives. No one was allowed back in New Orleans, and many of the players' homes were flooded to the rooftops.

Surely, they thought, their season must be over. But coach and headmaster J. T. Curtis is a forward-looking person, and his school was one of the first to reopen after the disaster. The team lost some players and even a few games, but before it was over it had won its 20th state championship.

The Curtis coaches genuinely care about their players and even took several of them into their homes after the storm. The players, too, have real affection for each other. Curtis is a private school that operates on a small budget and stresses academics over football. But it is football that welds them together. It's funny how this special American game has a way of doing that.

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood by Jeffrey Marx.

Marx was a ball boy for the Baltimore Colts when he first met Joe Ehrmann. Joe was a fun-loving but generous star defensive lineman whose life was changed when his younger brother died of bone cancer.

Joe became a minister and, eventually, defensive coordinator at the Gilman School in Baltimore, a private high school. Here he helps turn out champions not only on the field but also in life. His whole coaching philosophy is built around building relationships with his players. His goal is to build men who accept responsibility and enact justice on behalf of others.

The paradox is that he does this using a game of violence.

David Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.