A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen
By Joe Drape
Times Books, Hardcover, 9780805088908, 288pp.
Publication Date: August 18, 2009
An inspiring portrait of the extraordinary high-school football team whose quest for perfection sustains its hometown in the heartland
The football team in Smith Center, Kansas, has won sixty-seven games in a row, the nation's longest high-school winning streak. They have done so by embracing a philosophy of life taught by their legendary coach, Roger Barta: "Respect each other, then learn to love each other and together we are champions."
But as they embarked on a quest for a fifth consecutive title in the fall of 2008, they faced a potentially destabilizing transition: the greatest senior class in school history had graduated, and Barta was contemplating retirement after three decades on the sidelines.
In Smith Center--population: 1,931--this changing of the guard was seismic. Hours removed from the nearest city, the town revolves around "our boys" in a way that goes to the heart of what America's heartland is today.
Joe Drape, a Kansas City native and an award-winning sportswriter for "The New York Times," moved his family to Smith Center to discover what makes the team and the town an inspiration even to those who live hundreds of miles away. His stories of the coaches, players, and parents reveal a community fighting to hold on to a way of life that is rich in value, even as its economic fortunes decline.
Drape's moving portrait of Coach Barta and the impressive young men of Smith Center is sure to take its place among the more memorable American sports stories of recent years.
"Our Boys is about far more than football. It’s an inspiring story about how a coach and a community are building young men with the simple values of love, patience, and hard work. This is a great book."—Joe Paterno, head football coach, Pennsylvania State University
"If you want to turn away from the high-voltage auctioneer babble that surrounds big-time, big-money sport, take this trip to Smith Center, Kansas, with Joe Drape. This is organic stuff, a fat and healthy slice of unadulterated American life. Simply terrific."—Leigh Montville, author of The Big Bam and At the Altar of Speed
"Our Boys delves into the heart of America in a manner that reminds me of The Last Picture Show and Friday Night Lights. Joe Drape crafts a terrific tale that will make you laugh, cry, and think. This is a story about small-town America that will make you shout."—Jim Dent, author of Twelve Mighty Orphans and The Junction Boys
"Joe Drape tells the remarkable story of the Smith Center Redmen, not only their success in winning football games, but also in swelling pride for a community and building character in young men. He shows that Roger Barta and the people in Smith Center are winners in every sense of the word."—Bob Stoops, head coach, University of Oklahoma
"Joe Drape has caught something deep and beautiful in Our Boys. It is true to the reality of life on the plains, much more than another football story."—David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi
"A great read for all, but even more so for big-city readers to get a taste of the quality of life and genuine caring of this small community and its revered teacher, mentor, and coach – Roger Barta. It is not so much a story about football but about the true meaning of midwestern values, family life, and the spirit of small town Kansas and its special people. I couldn’t put it down."—Bill Snyder, head coach, Kansas State University
"A feel-good story of youthful drive, great coaching and the value of unflagging communal support."—Kirkus Reviews
"The tale [Drape] spins ends up being one that transcends athletics, a story of adolescence and smalltown life. . . . From the opening practice to the Redmen’s final game, Drape flawlessly paints a picture of how Smith Center achieves perfection year after year. . . . Drape gives the reader a team worth rooting for."—Publishers Weekly
“‘Hoosiers’ on a football field.”—New York Post
“The most improbable, unabashed love story I've read in years.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A compelling story expertly told.”—Pat Forde, ESPN.com
In the tiny western Kansas town of Smith Center, high school football is not just a sport — it's a community-wide crusade. And the result is a stunning string of victories. A new book, Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen, tells their story. More at NPR.org
NPR Audio Player Requires Flash Upgrade: Please upgrade your plug-in to view this content.