An inspiring story by a two-time Edgar Award-winning writer of how a six-man football team united a school and a town
In this touching account of the Penelope High Wolverines football team, Stowers writes of the miniscule western Texas town of Penelope, population 211, and the people who rally around the chain-link fences of small-town fields in the nation's heartland. In one of the poorest school districts in the state, farmers and librarians alike, all who were born and raised in Penelope, ready months in advance for their winless Wolverines to take the field in six-on-six football, an altered form of the sport for schools too small, and seriously lacking the funds, to form eleven-man teams. You can smell the mesquite smoke and dads grilling burgers, feel a buzz on the sidelines akin to Remember the Titans, Varsity Blues, and Friday Night Lights, but it's these unknown players and teams, playing a kind of anachronistic schoolboy ball for the pure love of sport, who get their moments of glory in Stowers's book. This all takes place hundreds of miles from what makes Texas football famous: the 20,000-capacity high-school stadiums, indoor hi-tech turf practice fields, and coaches with six-figure salaries. The narrative follows a handful of coaches, players and families and goes into life off the field and what brings the Penelope citizens to so value their Friday night ritual. The sport itself, six-man football, founded in 1936 in Nebraska ("a diversion from the grinding agonies brought on by the Great Depression") is played by 114 high schools in Texas (and others in New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Saskatchewan) all with fewer than 99 students in grades 9-12. In Penelope, priorities rest firmly with family and work first: boys miss practice and even games to attend topressing farm chores during the harvest. Yet, people are not always what they seem in this pocketsize heartland setting. Penelope's janitor doubles as a local musician, and the high school itself is a state powerhouse in one-act plays. Even the star players on the football team are not exempt from contradictions as the Wolverines' quarterback is late to the team bus because he has to help his father rebuild a fence for their family's goats. And, in what seems an insular place unaffected by real-world sadness, we learn that one Penelope student has served in Iraq since graduation and relishes the e-mails from his former classmates telling him how his Wolverines are coming along this season. About a place where "one person's success is everyone's success," Stowers's book is a quick, easy read of hope and old-fashioned spirit, and the winless Wolverines' story defies the notion that all Texas football is win-at-all-costs.