Just finished up a book I think many STOB'ers would enjoy. Blind Your Ponies is a great read about a small town high school basketball team as well as the supporters and town folk of the town in which the team resides. It takes place in the early 1990's in the small town of Willow Creek, Montana. A real town with a population of just over 200. You don't have to be a basketball fan to love this book, but it isn't going to hurt and I imagine if you are reading STOB, you like basketball, so you're good.
Sam Pickett is the main character, and the teams beaten down basketball coach who is heading into a season just praying he can pry five players out of the K-12 school to join him on a journey through another season. With some luck, a St. Paul, Minnesota ('Sota represent!) boy and a 6'10 Norweigen exchange student come into town and from there you begin to enjoy and like the characters, while rooting for them to assemble some type of team that just maybe could end the school's 90 plus game losing streak.
I read the paperback and it came in at 574 pages long. It's a good investment of your time. Like many underdog sports stories or movies you've seen before, there is a sappiness to it that at first can leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Once over that though, you actually start to like the fuzzy sappiness that this book oozes. For some reason at the end of the book I got something in my eye a couple of times, and a lump of un-chewed food or something appeared in my throat.
The only downside of the book I'd point out is that it is a bit repetitive (game day, recovery post-gameday, pre-gameday preparations, game day and repeat) but all that surrounds that repeating theme is good, and you'll want to keep turning the pages to see if this group of underdogs can find a winning formula.
For me the book really reminded me of my time playing high school basketball. A school not rich in basketball tradition trying to break that mold. While reading it, I'd get hints of the same feelings in my gut pre-game. I could almost smell the locker room, the concessions, the wood floors and leather (kind of) basketball. The joy of beating down Paul Rome's high school squad in sections. All of it came rushing back as though it were yesterday.
Outside of basketball, this book tackles some much more serious subjects. Love, death, hidden secrets we all live with, alcoholism, depression, small town life and more. This is where the book's sappiness actually departs, it is much more hard-hitting off the court than on. On the court and within the team you sometimes question if any high school kids talk like these kids do. Off the court, the people within the town are more raw and believable.
To me though this speaks to why sports are so great, and intentional or unintentionally I think Stanley Gordon West really shows us all why sports are so important, both for the players and those directly involved with the team, but also for fans. Everything else in your world can be going wrong but sports can take your mind off of it and give you something to be happy, or even sappy, about. The ugliness of the real world melts away when the fans and players take the court and focus all their energy on trying to win. True in this book and for me true as well in my experiences.
So check out Blind Your Ponies and let me know if you enjoyed it.