Turning his attention from horseracing (To the Swift: Classic Triple Crown Horses and Their Race for Glory, 2008, etc.), New York Times reporter Drape follows a high-school football dynasty.
In November 2007, the author’s front-page Times article about the Redmen—a team from Smith Center, Kan., that had clinched four straight state championships—garnered so much interest that he decided to uproot his family from New York and return to Smith Center the following year to see if the Redmen could make it five in a row. Drape’s season-long enchantment with this quaint town (pop. 1,931) at the geographical center of the continental United States colors his account as much as his detailed coverage of the Redmen’s incredible 2008 season, during which, despite having lost 12 seniors, the team averaged 50 points per game while holding opponents to a meager nine. Though much of Drape’s analysis of the Redmen’s uncanny success rests on the it-takes-a-village mentality shared by members of the close-knit Smith Center community, at the heart of this tale of fortitude is the strategic and motivational genius of Roger Barta, who, during 31 years as the head coach, has won 289 games and eight state championships. His simple mantra—“Life is not about winning or losing; it’s about competing. It’s about working hard and getting a little bit better each day”—instilled in his young players and devoted staff the work ethic required to sustain their remarkable success. Though a bit overlong—the story would probably work better as a long-format magazine piece—the book will certainly appeal to fans of Friday Night Lights and other accounts of small-town sports glory.
A feel-good story of youthful drive, great coaching and the value of unflagging communal support.