The Kids Got It Right: How the Texas All-Stars Kicked Down Racial Walls by Jim Dent.
Thomas Dunne Books, Saint Martin’s Press, New York, 2013.
Sports nonfiction, 288 pages including index.
NOTE: For international readers. As an American, I use the word football for American football, the team sport with helmets and tackling. For books involving the team sport with cleats and goals with nets, see the tag soccer.
This is a story of small-town Texas football, particularly those involved in the 1965 Big 33 game. It’s the story of high school stars Jerry LeVias and Bill Bradley, an unstoppable duo who changed football at that game in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
It’s pretty clear within the first ten pages that this was written by a white man. The subtitle notwithstanding, this book is not about race. This book is about football, and specifically one football game in which an All-Star team began to be slightly integrated.
I picked up this book at the dollar store and after reading and reviewing, will be passing it along. Elsewhere I’ve seen this recommended to fans of the TV show Friday Night Lights and high school football fans. I am neither. Sports in general are not my thing, but in particular high school football holds little interest to me unless I personally know the participants.
Maybe I should have chosen a different book. But I also love that this blog pushes me to finish books I otherwise would DNF and consider subjects and viewpoints that otherwise wouldn’t cross my path.
This book is HEAVY on the football. There are points where whole pages are devoted to explaining particular plays or epic moments of high school football. This book is also very rooted in Texas. There are frequent references to specific schools, towns, and railroads which I, a lifelong Wisconsinite, knew nothing about.
The Kids Got It Right goes into great detail about the life of coach Bobby Layne, a former star derailed by alcoholism. A lot of space is also devoted to player Bill Bradley, the white boy who agreed to room with Jerry LeVias. Bradley certainly bucked the trends, thanks mainly to his father’s example of showing respect towards those of other races. However, Jerry LeVias was the true hero here. He was cautious but brave, behaved with respectability, and was an amazing football player.
LeVias was crippled by polio but somehow went on to be an amazing athlete and incredibly fast. This reminded me of Wilma Rudolph, whose picture book biography we read for The 30 Day Project. LeVias had a strong family life with a focus on education and religion and found his sports mentor at school. Overall, I found the chapters focusing on LeVias’ life to be the most interesting.
The book jumps around in time and space quite a bit (making it even more irritating that the story starts with the white characters since chronology can’t be held up as the cause). Most of the time I didn’t have trouble following, since the chapters were thematic. However, Chapter 7 goes into the future Vietnam War experiences of one of the boys. This chapter was the most egregious example of several points where I was thrown right out of the book and had difficulty retaining enough interest to continue.
Additionally, there are so many things that were never called out. For example, the racial slurs against a Native American player used on page 133. I understood that this book would not be overflowing with female characters, but was a little shocked that the women named were almost all incredibly objectified. This book is dripping with straight white male privilege and a good ol’ boys mentality.
The bright spot of this book was Jerry LeVias, and to a lesser degree, Bill Bradley. There were two other black players on the All Star Team, and while they were able to room together and were less important to the team than our two big stars, it still would have been nice to have seen their perspectives, if the book was in fact about racial integration in football.
A great deal of the book includes dialogue. While the quotations from press conferences or memorable lines make sense, the full pages of conversation seemed fishy to me. Jim Dent is fairly well known for his football books, so I’m sure he did his research, but it bothered me to have so much of the book based on recollections and recreations that often seemed one-sided.
There is considerable swearing, underage drinking and heavy petting (with more implied), so I wouldn’t give this to a child below high school.
If you like to read books about football, you may enjoy this more than I did. I wouldn’t recommend it. Try Chasing Space instead.