THE WAY WE PLAYED THE GAME

A TRUE STORY OF ONE TEAM AND THE DAWNING OF AMERICAN FOOTBALL

Team photographs and pages from a contemporary A.G. Spaulding catalogue provide more interesting detail than any of...

Trickster Armstrong debuts by pretending (unfortunately) that his reconstruction of a Michigan high school’s 1903 football season is the actual memoir by the team's quarterback.

In the prologue, Armstrong claims that Fletcher Van Horne wrote this account of his glory days as Benton Harbor High’s starting quarterback after a history teacher who heard him speak at a local Elk’s Club in 1965 encouraged him to set down his recollections on paper. In a closing “Note from the Author,” Armstrong admits the story of the manuscript is mumbo jumbo; he fashioned the story from local newspaper clippings collected by his grandmother and from his own research into turn-of-the-century football. This last-minute switch in perspective reveals an amateurish personal memoir to be in fact a lame and tiresome con job. Fletcher Van Horne and Benson Harbor head coach Clayton Teetzel appear to be real people. A sophomore in 1903, the small and thin Van Horne plays with great passion, leads the team to victories, overcomes injury, and wins the big game with fortitude and bravery. A University of Michigan graduate trained in Fielding Yost's style of hurry-up offence, first-year coach Teetzel leads the boys of Benton Harbor to victories over other high schools and colleges in southwest Michigan. Armstrong succeeds with his portrait of team unity and the bonds of friendship, but game narratives are repetitious, the team wins easily, and the contrived drama is silly. The story is further undermined by lifeless fictional supporting characters like Miss Fitzgerald, a gassy teacher who constantly preaches the dangers of football, and Mrs. Van Horne, who unrealistically morphs from protective mom into General Patton in ankle-length skirts.

Team photographs and pages from a contemporary A.G. Spaulding catalogue provide more interesting detail than any of Armstrong's nonsense. (b&w photos)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-57071-941-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2002

WHY WE SWIM

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

CONCUSSION

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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