STATE by Melissa Isaacson


A Team, a Triumph, a Transformation
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The unknown story of a high school girls’ basketball team in “a monumental place in our nation’s history.”

Sportswriter Isaacson (Journalism/Northwestern Univ.; Transition Game: An Inside Look at Life With the Chicago Bulls, 1994), who has worked for ESPN and the Chicago Tribune, mixes her personal experience on Illinois’ 1979 state championship team with a chronicle of the implementation of Title IX, which “prohibited sex discrimination in any educational program or activity receiving…federal financial aid.” The author attended Niles West High School, which had no tradition of female interscholastic sports when she entered. The female teacher who agreed to coach the nascent girls’ basketball team knew almost nothing about the game, so she listened carefully week after week as the male coach of the boys’ team tutored her. Isaacson and most of her teammates came to idolize their coach, and they respected the boys’ coach, too, for his patient role. This coming-of-age memoir, informed by a larger social history, alternates among biographical profiles of the coaches, the author’s basketball-playing classmates (“after the passage of Title IX, tennis and badminton were clearly not enough”), parents and siblings of the students, and school administrators. As the narrative progresses and the girls turn into a winning team, Isaacson provides detailed accounts of the frequent victories and occasional losses, sections that may not interest nonfans. An irony of the narrative is that the much-loved female coach departed the high school for personal reasons after inspiring the girls for three seasons, and her replacement was a male teacher/coach. Under his guidance, the girls’ team won the state championship during Isaacson’s senior year despite numerous rocky moments caused by the coach’s awkwardness in dealing with teenage girls. By her senior year, Isaacson no longer played a key role on the team, but she learned how to adjust and take significant joy in the success of the team.

An intimate, at times inspiring account.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-57284-266-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Agate Midway
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2019


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