An inspiring portrait of the extraordinary high-school football team whose quest for perfection sustains its hometown in the heartland
The football team in Smith Center, Kansas, has won sixty-seven games in a row, the nation’s longest high-school winning streak. They have done so by embracing a philosophy of life taught by their legendary coach, Roger Barta: “Respect each other, then learn to love each other and together we are champions.”
But as they embarked on a quest for a fifth consecutive title in the fall of 2008, they faced a potentially destabilizing transition: the greatest senior class in school history had graduated, and Barta was contemplating retirement after three decades on the sidelines.
In Smith Center—population: 1,931—this changing of the guard was seismic. Hours removed from the nearest city, the town revolves around “our boys” in a way that goes to the heart of what America’s heartland is today.
Joe Drape, a Kansas City native and an award-winning sportswriter for The New York Times, moved his family to Smith Center to discover what makes the team and the town an inspiration even to those who live hundreds of miles away. His stories of the coaches, players, and parents reveal a community fighting to hold on to a way of life that is rich in value, even as its economic fortunes decline.
Drape’s moving portrait of Coach Barta and the impressive young men of Smith Center is sure to take its place among the more memorable American sports stories of recent years.
Although Drape traveled to the Midwest to chronicle a record-setting high school football season, the tale he spins ends up being one that transcends athletics, a story of adolescence and smalltown life. Smith Center, Kans., is a sleepy locale 90 miles from the nearest McDonald's, a place with more windmills than people. But it's also home to Kansas's biggest football powerhouse, a team that entered the fall of 2008 with 56 straight victories and four consecutive championships. From the opening practice to the Redmen's final game, Drape flawlessly paints a picture of how Smith Center achieves perfection year after year. More importantly, he delves into the individual stories on the team: the tough but kindhearted coach who built a dynasty from nothing; the sure-fire college prospect; and the assistant coach's son, trying to live up to his father's legacy. All the while, Drape details the friendships he develops away from the field with the parents and other townspeople, and the mutual joy they bring the Redmen. With a clear sensitivity toward the difficulties facing the Smith Center players, along with more than a dash of humor, Drape gives the reader a team worth rooting for. (Aug.)