A novel about small-town high school football, life lessons, and President Harry S. Truman.
Stovall (The Millionaire Map, 2013, etc.) opens a new series of Homecoming Historical novels with the story of 66-year-old Glen Fullerton. He’s retiring after 42 years as the head coach of Harry S. Truman High School’s Eagles football team in Springfield, Missouri. At Fullerton’s farewell dinner, as he’s praised by dozens of former players, he reflects on his many years at Truman High, where he was first a student, then an assistant coach, then head coach. Along the way, he recalls having mental “conversations” with the statue of Truman on the school’s front lawn, which provided him with spiritual guidance. In particular, Fullerton reflects on football and on “the moments that bind us together forever.” One specific incident forms the main plot of the novel: during Fullerton’s fifth year as head coach, he learned that one of his players, Bradley Hope, had cancer and was expected to live only another year. Bradley’s doctor told Fullerton that the boy was pinning his hopes on becoming a starter for the Truman Eagles. When a so-called “football miracle” clears the way for that to happen, Hope’s courage inspires his teammates, who shave their heads in sympathy with Hope’s baldness from chemotherapy, along with the rest of the townsfolk. During this story, Stovall effectively interweaves a great many anecdotes about Harry Truman himself, as well as some of Fullerton’s observations on the deeper meaning of football: “Football is a game, but there are habits we form and lessons we learn that will carry us through the rest of our lives,” he observes at one point. “Winning becomes a habit just as losing becomes a habit.” The author does make a confusing reference to the story as a “book/movie” (it is, in fact, just a book), and some readers may find his idealization of Truman, who signed an order to incinerate two Japanese cities, to be simplistic. Overall, however, Stovall is a sure-handed storyteller, and his book is uplifting without ever seeming one-dimensional.
A heartwarming story that’s “a little bit about football and an awful lot about life.”