Archive for the ‘Sean’s Picks’ Category

BFBG-FraternityAmid the anger, confusion, and chaos that reigned in the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, a white priest provided unforeseen direction for a group of young black men.  With riots breaking out across the country, Father John Brooks set out to recruit black students to the College of the Holy Cross, an all-male Irish Catholic institution in Worcester, Massachusetts.  A theology professor at the time, Brooks had previously been involved in progressive recruitment efforts that yielded little results.  He decided the time for discussion and planning was over.

With an enrollment of approximately 2,200 students, Holy Cross typically admitted two black students per year and had eight black students in April 1968.  Wanting to bolster that number as soon as possible, Brooks persuaded the president of Holy Cross to authorize Brooks to offer scholarships on the spot to qualified black students, bypassing the lengthy admissions process.  As a result, 20 black students entered Holy Cross in the fall of 1968 while Brooks assumed a new role as vice president for academic affairs and dean.  Brooks became president of Holy Cross in 1970.

Brady focuses on five of those students and their relationships with Father Brooks and each other.  The author draws in readers immediately by recounting where those figures were when King was killed and how that affected them.  Brady deftly weaves the common threads of their stories through that event and their experiences on campus.  On top of the experiences of adjusting to college life any incoming student has to make and issues associated with discrimination and racism, the specter of the Vietnam War and draft procedures loomed large for these young men.

Solidarity was important for these students even as they dealt with individual issues.  Clarence Thomas found himself on a Catholic campus months after he left the seminary, which created problems at home.  Ted Wells lost his desire to play football because he felt it detracted too much from his studies.  Eddie Jenkins, later drafted by the Miami Dolphins, lost the majority of his first varsity football season after a hepatitis outbreak decimated the team.  Basketball player Stan Grayson’s career came to an abrupt end when he suffered a knee injury.  Ed Jones struggled as a math major before finding his calling as a writer and switching to English.  Through it all, the students learned to lean on Father Brooks and each other.

Long before embarking on successful and influential careers, these men had to navigate campus life at Holy Cross.  The formation of a Black Student Union was a key step, and shortly thereafter the BSU lobbied for and was granted a black corridor among student housing.  Thomas was the lone dissenter on the issue of a black corridor, although some BSU members avoided the vote.  Despite his dissension, Thomas decided to live in the black corridor in a sign of solidarity and later viewed the corridor as a de facto fraternity.

That solidarity was most evident in late 1969 when all but three or four of the 68 black students (41 enrolled in 1969) threatened to drop out of Holy Cross because of what they deemed racist disciplinary action after a protest on campus that included black and white students.  After a long few days of campus meetings in which Father Brooks advocated for the BSU position, the president of Holy Cross gave amnesty to all the students disciplined, and all the black students remained in school.

Although Father Brooks did not always agree with the viewpoints of the black students and as president could not grant all their demands, he always had understanding and compassion for how they felt.  Through Father Brooks and the students he recruited to Holy Cross, Brady captures not only the events of tumultuous times, but also the breadth and depth of the emotions associated with them.

Check the WRL catalog for Fraternity

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Who could have known a hundred years ago? A major concern in football now is protecting “defenseless” receivers going over the middle to catch a downfield pass. Ironically, as Maggio’s wonderfully researched effort spotlights, rules to encourage passing originally were put in place to reduce violence in football.

The game had become gruesomely brutal because of the mass-running formations in which lines of players sans equipment hurled themselves at each other. Calls for football to be abolished grew after 21 players died during the 1904 college football season and another 19 were killed as a result of playing injuries in 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt called for a conference with some of the leading coaches to encourage rules changes that would limit violence in the game. Columbia, among the early powers in college football, nevertheless dropped its program for 10 years after the 1905 season.

College football leaders grudgingly instituted rules to encourage downfield passing and spread out formations on the field. Even so, major powers in the East such as Yale and Army preferred the running game. Upstart squads from the West started dabbling in the passing game, but the East refused to take notice until new coach Jesse Harper took Notre Dame to play mighty Army in 1913. Little-known Notre Dame, which Army agreed to play largely because it needed a “breather” on the schedule, unleashed a potent passing attack that teams in the East had not seen before and won 35-13.

Harper, hired at Notre Dame as football coach and director of athletics in no small part because he believed football should support itself financially, gained acclaim as a pioneer in the passing offense. His Notre Dame team wasn’t the first to use an aerial attack, but it was the first to topple a major Eastern power doing so. That game also thrust ND quarterback Gus Dorais and end Knute Rockne onto the national college football scene, Dorais for his ability to hit receivers as far as 40 yards downfield and Rockne for his ability to catch the ball with his hands in stride. Previously, receivers typically stopped and cradled the ball before trying to gain more yardage.

This book, subtitled How Jesse Harper Made the Forward Pass a Weapon and Knute Rockne a Legend, will appeal not only to Notre Dame fans but to college football fans in general. Those who like the rough nature of football will especially enjoy the chapters describing the early years of the game. Moreover, Maggio provides some context of the contributions of some of the iconic names in college football, such as Amos Alonzo Stagg, Walter Camp, Glenn “Pop” Warner, and Jim Thorpe in addition to Notre Dame legends Rockne and George Gipp.

Changes in the game off the field also are interesting, including the descriptions of team travel from one region of the country to another and the time it took. Those who think they are die-hard fans today will appreciate the lengths to which fans would get information on the games in the early 1900s before not only television but also radio. For that landmark game at West Point in 1913, Notre Dame students huddled outside the newspaper office in South Bend, Indiana, awaiting telegraph bulletins posted in the window after each quarter of play.

The end of Harper’s coaching tenure at Notre Dame illustrates another stark contrast between today’s game and that of a hundred years ago. Harper turned over the team to Rockne after the 1917 season because his father-in-law promised him the same salary he was getting at Notre Dame to help out on his cattle ranch in Kansas. Nowadays, a coach being put out to pasture means a sports broadcasting gig.

Check the WRL catalog for Notre Dame and the Game That Changed Football



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Any parent who has put an exuberant toddler in the bathtub with a single rubber duck understands the possibility of the bedlam that can ensue.  The subtitle of Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them indicates Hohn’s desire to understand the possibilities when the bathtub is transformed into the sea and the single rubber duck is transformed into a shipping container full of bath toys.  On top of that, bath time lasts the better part of two decades in this scenario.

Shipping containers lost in the ocean are far from uncommon.  The greatest contributor to what is known as the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch may very well be Nike shoes, Air Jordans prominently among them, although anything that ships is liable to land in the ocean.  The container that spawned this story was one of 12 to go overboard in a storm south of the Aleutian Islands near the International Date Line on Jan. 10, 1992.  Legend has turned all the lost bath toys into yellow rubber ducks, but the polyethylene (plastic) creatures were divided equally among yellow ducks, red beavers, blue turtles, and green frogs.  Of course, the smirking yellow duck proves to be the most intriguing for Hohn because of its status as a childhood icon thanks to Ernie of Sesame Street fame.

Moby-Duck is not the first book inspired by the incident. Eric Carle’s picture book Ten Little Rubber Ducks came out in 2005, about the time Hohn learned of the wayward bath toys.  What especially caught Hohn’s attention was the rumor that someone had found one of the toys in Maine in 2003, 11 years after the toys had splashed into the Pacific Ocean.  When Hohn embarks on his quest to determine if that could be possible, he does so with childlike curiosity and hope. What ensues is his struggle to maintain that innocent imagination when faced with realities such as a global economy, treacherous oceanic transportation, and plastic pollutants.

Questions borne of both curiosity and skepticism eventually lead Hohn to surrender his job as a teacher at a private Quaker school in Manhattan to pursue his search for answers.  In a variety of vessels including a container ship and an icebreaker, Hohn makes trips to the Aleutians, Hawaii, Hong Kong and the Guangdong Province in China, and the Arctic Circle over three years.  His chase for a yellow duck representing the comfort of youth quickly morphs into an adult romanticism of adventure.  That spirit of exploration results in Hohn taking several risks out on the high seas, all to determine the possible fate of a plastic bath toy he could buy for $1 or less.

Hohn illustrates his skill as a teacher with numerous literary references, most often to Moby-Dick, although he vacillates to his sense of childhood frivolity with frequent mentions of Carle’s Ten Little Rubber Ducks.  In addition to imparting his wisdom on literature (yes, picture books do count as literature), Hohn capably offers lessons of oceanography throughout Moby-Duck and sprinkles in history lessons of other commercial losses at sea as well as of other explorations along the waterways of his journey.

As for Hohn’s journey, the possibility that a yellow duck  — or, to be fair, a red beaver, blue turtle, or green frog — could travel from the upper Pacific to the shores of Maine remains a concern until the end of his chase in 2008.  In the end, though, the accumulation of facts and probabilities is only part of the story.  Drawing on several years’ worth of travel, intensive study, and research, Hohn shares his insights on navigating the sometimes stormy waters of the adult world yet still seizing opportunities to let youthful exuberance set sail on occasion, or at least to splash around in the tub now and again.

Check the WRL catalog for Moby-Duck


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