Title: Remember Westville
Author: James E. Bryant
Rating: Very Good!
Web Page: www.iuniverse.com
Reviewed by: Les Chappell | View Bio
March Madness has returned, leading to a series of ill-conceived brackets, non-stop ESPN analysis and often heated discussions over whose alma mater is going to take it all this year. Everyone with even a passing attention for the game gets caught up, reviving old rivalries and remembering that last big game. No doubt it's even bigger for the friends and family of players, who remember when their boys played in the high school gym.
It's that affection for young players that fuels "Remember Westville," James Bryant's history of the 1976 Westville Tigers. Westville, a small Illinois town known mostly as home to the first night high school football game, saw their high school basketball team embark on a winning streak that motivated players and fans alike. Winning several regional tournaments, they eventually lost a super-sectional but still established the best season in school history.
To reconstruct this almost epic year Bryant conducted extensive interviews with Coach Hardy, as well as the entire team, assistant coaches, rival coaches and family members. He covers Hardy's first years as coach and tracks the path each player took to get on the court, moving on to play-by-play descriptions of bigger games. It gets off to a slow start - there are almost too many little details, such as Coach Hardy's inscriptions in the high school yearbook - but the excitement builds as the stakes rise.
The book's research is considerable, but its construction feels less like a narrative and more like a documentary. Bryant, a former radio broadcaster, structures the book as a series of commentaries followed by long quotes from players and coaches. The language makes it seem like there should be a running reel of game highlights or players' faces, which makes the book's almost complete lack of pictures rather surprising.
What the book lacks in visual aid it makes up for in commitment, both affectionate and perceptive. Competition with rival schools Chrisman and Schlarman will resonate with anyone even peripherally involved in high school athletics, and the feel of the game comes across in several of the more tense reenactments. Anyone who either knew the players personally or becomes attached to them will enjoy updated biographies at the end - none of the players went pro, but all enjoy comfortable lives and share fond season memories.
"Remember Westville" is the story common in sports - small
school team, up against the odds, uniting the town in a
quest for glory even if the final win eludes them. With
every player and coach talking to him Bryant has put
together an in-depth history, even if some of the hometown
pride will be lost on non-Westville residents.
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