A former writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution witnesses the resurrection of the football fortunes of the Valdosta High School Wildcats during their 2010 season.
In this narrowly focused treatment, Jubera is most interested in the lives of the players and others directly associated with the team, including boosters, parents, coaches and the occasional cheerleader. The author avoids discussion of the school’s teachers or fellow students with other talents and interests. This is understandable given the fact that, in this area of the country, football is king (one booster compares the new head coach, Rance Gillespie, to Jesus). Jubera became a great admirer of Gillespie, whom Valdosta hired to restore its once-stellar football program. Indeed, much of the story is a paean to the coach’s work ethic. The author also follows some of the key players—a laidback white quarterback and some enormously talented black athletes—many of whom come from very troubled backgrounds. These are kids with attitude, who only do schoolwork to stay eligible and who have lost friends to gunfire. But Gillespie whipped them into shape with ferocious practices, and they went 11-1 during the regular season (losing only to a hated crosstown rival) and won a couple playoff games. Unfortunately, Jubera hurls around the clichés as frequently as forward passes (one juggled ball “just hung there, in mid-air, almost still, like a low-hanging peach”), and some readers may ask: What if all that energy, money and community support went into, well, education?
Moves swiftly, but lacks gravity and neglects uncomfortable questions.