A high school basketball coach and teacher debuts with a volume about a successful basketball season—and a host of educational, social, and personal issues.
Skelton, once an all-state player in his native New Hampshire, had drifted away from basketball, but then he returned to the sport when he began teaching history and English at Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, a school whose praises he sings throughout (“a touchstone for small school success in the city”). Within a few years, he had built a team that won two city championships and one state crown. As the author guides us through a recent successful season, he steps away occasionally to talk about his family, educational issues—he is opposed to high-stakes standardized testing and the narrow curriculum that exists because of it, and he’s deeply worried about what he sees as the deleterious effects of the charter-school movement on public education—his classes (he especially loves teaching Russian literature), and his valued colleagues at the school. Throughout, Skelton sprinkles literary allusions and quotations, including elements of Moby-Dick (probably the most frequent), Rabbit, Run, and Troilus and Cressida. The focus, of course, is on the author’s players, their practices and games, and relationships. He chronicles how he deals with injuries, players quitting the team, and with his own passion for the game and for winning, a passion that often manifests itself in shouting and punching his notebooks. His diction is not always fresh or surprising. “Life is not easy,” he writes; his wife is “my best friend.” Some readers may be surprised by how little Skelton discusses race given the school’s location in “one of the most segregated sections” of NYC. Although there is one moderately tense moment with local police officers, the author is more focused on the individual players and students than on their value as racial metaphors.
A text full of hope, self-examination, and a profound belief in the young people whom the author coaches and teaches.