Smith, daughter of the titular coach, examines and remembers historically black Pearl High School and its famous basketball coach.
Basketball might be the centerpiece in this first of two volumes on Pearl High School and its legendary coach, but the many intangibles leading to the program’s dramatic success describe the book’s essence. Smith is the daughter and unwavering supporter of Coach Cornelius Ridley, who, for more than 20 years, served as mentor, disciplinarian and sometimes father figure to Pearl’s students, ballplayers and eventual men. This first volume chronicles the 1960s, described as a journey from segregation to integration. Smith deftly alternates between depicting the outstanding basketball program and the man who brought its excellence to the fore. This, in turn, is skillfully interwoven into the school’s rich history, complete with portrayals of dedicated educators and cohesive neighborhoods. The author’s analysis and quality research blends well with her personal touch. Basketball fans and archival buffs alike will appreciate the proficient use and display of news articles, interviews, photos, letters, box scores and even Western Union telegrams. The text’s tone suggests an earnestness that seems to have been handed from father to daughter. Smith can sometimes be overstated in her occasional black-and-white representations of items like character, values or relationships, but even a casual reader would expect this type of writing with a familial connection. This distraction is slight and certainly doesn’t take away from the author’s adept examination of critical, enduring issues. Smith discusses basketball equally well with the Secondary School Study of 1940 or Nashville’s mathematical formula for determining desegregation numbers (both listed in the appendix). It is, indeed, her examination of such issues that merges so well with a story that is attentive, nostalgic and just plain fun. One item that seems curiously missing, at least for the dedicated sports fan, is more coverage of the 1966 historic ballgame—Pearl’s championship in the first real year of integration. The account, otherwise, is a definite must for various libraries and repositories, especially those involved with sports and history. Includes end notes, references, appendices and index.
A detailed, dedicated and enjoyable remembrance.