This isn’t some urban football juggernaut. This isn’t some wealthy suburb. The nearest McDonald’s is ninety miles away and the town has a hard time keeping businesses on Main Street. These players are the hard-working sons of farmers, laborers, teachers and coaches. They don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. They work multiple jobs. Here, teachers are nobility. Parents are heroes. And a football coach is revered.
This is Smith Center, Kansas. The home of the Redmen.
I got the chance to get an early copy of Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen, and it turned out to be one of the best football books I have ever read. The author Joe Drape moved to Smith Center, Kansas, to follow the football team all year, as they worked towards their 5th straight state title and a Kansas record of consecutive victories (they entered the season with 55).
If you didn't know anything about the book, you might think it was like Friday Night Lights, which was surreal in the sense that high school football consumed the town of Odessa, TX, and the success of the team became bigger than the players themselves. With any book about high school football, I wondered if that would be the case here.
However, it was just the opposite. Oh, the town sure loved the football team, and they cheered them on passionately every week. But their lives were not built around Smith Center football. They were able to keep perspective, and focus on the education and maturation of the boys, not just their football success.
Their head coach says, "None of this is really about football. We're going to get scored on eventually, and lose a game, and that doesn't mean anything. What I hope we're doing is sending kids into life who know that every day means something." He went on, "Sure, we like our football around here. But we truly believe it takes a whole town to raise a child, and that's worth a whole lot more." The motto of the coach was basically to get a little bit better each day, and football was simply his way of getting the message across.
It was a very heartwarming story about this rural area of Kansas, where it seems the kids are raised right and the people have the right priorities. Football is important, but it's not more important than living life and becoming the best you can be, and sometimes that gets lost in the shuffle. Not in Smith Center. Family and teamwork is valued above all else. To be honest, the book kinda made me want to move to Smith Center. In a world where we hear so much negativity, it is refreshing to read about people that simply care about each other and want the best for each other, and that seemed to be the case in Smith Center.
This book highlights all of the reasons we love sports, and especially high school sports. Players playing simply because they love the game, without letting it overtake their life. Bravo Joe Drape for writing one of the best sports books I have ever read.
At the end of each game, the team would huddle with parents in the locker room, and they would hold hands and the coaches would all say a few words. It was great bonding for the team as well as reinforcing the importance of the family As Drape writes, "I watched Coach Barta listening to his soon. I looked down the rows of fathers holding the hands of their boys. Coach Barta was more than just a helluva football coach."