During the 1968-1969 school year, an all-black high school soared to win Ohio’s basketball and baseball championships.
Journalist Haygood (Media, Journalism, and Film/Miami Univ.; The Haygoods of Columbus: A Love Story, 2016, etc.), a Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow, tells a story of perseverance, courage, and breathtaking talent as he recounts, in vibrant detail, the achievements of the Tigers, a basketball and baseball team at Columbus, Ohio’s inner-city East High School. Drawing on interviews with the athletes and their families, coaches, and teachers as well as published and archival sources, the author creates moving portraits of the teenagers and their undaunted coaches and supporters. “Black boys in a white world,” the students lived on the blighted side of town and had always attended underfunded schools; many had mothers who cleaned houses for wealthy whites. But they were uniquely, impressively talented athletes, and sports was a means of proving their worth. The Tigers could not have achieved their success without the help of two dedicated coaches: Bob Hart and Paul Pennell, both white, “big-hearted men who had a social conscience”; nor without the tireless and defiant efforts of Jack Gibbs, Columbus’ first black high school principal, an astute networker who roused support from parents, business owners, and community leaders. Because the East Side had the city’s highest crime rate, Gibbs made sure the students were kept too busy with school activities to get into mischief. East High “became part progressive laboratory, part military school, a place that had high expectations for student achievement.” Haygood dramatically renders the heady excitement of each game, the tense moments of a close contest, and the exuberant—tear-jerking—wins. The inspiring story of East High’s championship becomes even more astonishing in the context of endemic racism, which the author closely examines, and “the turmoil of a nation at war and in the midst of unrest,” roiled by the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
An engrossing tale of one shining moment in dark times.