Jim Dent Got it Right

The Kids Got it Right: How the Texas All-Stars Kicked Down Racial Walls by Jim Dent is one-third football, one-third history,  one-third storytelling and 100% Texas. If you love reading about Texas high school and/or college football – or just Texas in general… you are going to love this book.

Jim Dent is the author of a couple of my absolute favorite books – The Junction Boys: How 10 Days in Hell with Bear Bryant Forged a Champion Team and  Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football. While the tale of the Mighty Mites is still my favorite of his, this one is going in my recommended list.

I chuckled and laughed out loud at parts of the book. I felt a rise of Texan pride many times. The only things that caught me off guard were the many shift forward and backward in time. I understand why they were done and as such it didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the book.

Because this a book of real-life and not a carefully crafted fiction piece, the arc isn’t smooth – just like life. The stories of Bobby Layne, Doak Walker, Bill Bradley, Jerry LeVias, Darrell Royal, Hayden Fry and dozens of other Texas football dignitaries are legendary.  Dent does them all justice in this book centered around the 1965 Big 33 football game featuring all-star high school football players from Pennsylvania hosting the all-stars from the Lone Star State.

The backstory of race relations is deftly handled just as all-star quarterback Bill Bradley handled it as the “Blue-Eyed Soul Brother” to Southwest Conference barrier-shattering receiver Jerry LeVias. As Bill Bradly didn’t make a big deal of rooming with LeVias and eventually becoming lifelong friends, Dent doesn’t make a big deal of it in the book. He doesn’t paint it as anything bigger than it was but gives the occasion proper respect and recognition.

My favorite parts of the book were the players from Texas and their interaction with the team of players “Coal Crackers” from Pennsylvania. The high-jinx, one-upmanship and competitive spirit of Texas high school football is expertly told in these pages.

Almost out of nowhere came a great little story about Bradley’s Palestine teammate Captain Curtis Fitzgerald, who went on to become one of the most decorated heroes in the Vietnam War.  The tales of him pinned down by enemy fire after his bird went down rescuing soldiers is great storytelling.  That however, pales in comparison to the flashback to a playoff game they trailed to Wichita Falls Hirschi in which Fitz broke his arm and kept playing. This side story itself could be a great motion picture.

Mr. Dent has done it again – lived up to his Texas chops – honored the traditions and people involved – and most of all… written a book you cannot put down.

by Chris Doelle