City of Champions (Hardcover)
An American story of leather helmets, iron wills and the high school kids from Jersey who won it all
Tatra Press, 9781732222700, 465pp.
Publication Date: November 26, 2018
On Christmas night, 1939, two vastly different teams from Garfield, New Jersey, and Miami, Florida collided in the historic Orange Bowl to decide the National Sports Foundation’s national championship. Garfield’s Boilermakers were children of immigrants drawn to the industrial city’s churning factories. Miami’s Stingarees were from families from all over the country settling in one of America’s most promising and thriving cities.
In City of Champions, Hank Gola, a veteran and award-winning football writer, unveils this long-forgotten game. Gola mines stories of the towns and the lives of the players and coaches—detailing the grit (and wild strokes of fortune) that led up to a Garfield victory, stunning the football world. Gola also describes how this game mirrored America, revealing some of the most pressing cultural, economic and socio-political issues of the day.
About the Author
Hank Gola has spent over four decades as a journalist, primarily covering professional football and golf for the New York Daily News and New York Post. An award-winning sportswriter, Gola most recently was named the 2018 recipient of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association’s Lincoln Werden Award for golf journalism. A native of Garfield, New Jersey, he now lives in Parsippany, NJ, with his wife, Lillian. He has two children, Henry and Julianne, and three grandchildren, Rose, Ruby and Elliot and a loyal pug, Freddie.
Praise For City of Champions: An American story of leather helmets, iron wills and the high school kids from Jersey who won it all…
"On Christmas night in 1939, two high schools from widely different backgrounds met at the Orange Bowl in Miami to play in an improbable national championship game that had big-time connections running as deep as Franklin Roosevelt. Author Hank Gola’s inspiration for the book came from growing up in Garfield, N.J., and hearing for decades about the local high school’s famous team and game. Gola details the circumstances leading up to the showdown and how they were impacted by the nation’s political climate on the eve of World War II. In fact, the game was conceived as a way to raise money to kick off Roosevelt’s campaign to find a cure for polio, which was ravaging the country. Garfield, comprising sons of blue-collar immigrants, was selected by a group that included legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice to meet Miami High, made up of players from mostly thriving families in Florida’s late ’30 economic boom. This book has a “Friday Night Lights” element to it. With the NFL still in its infancy, Garfield played games attracting upward of 20,000 fans, as those teams filled the struggling town with an immense sense of pride. Garfield’s best player, the wonderfully name Benny Babula, is a somewhat reluctant star who didn’t enjoy the spotlight that came with his feats. Gola’s book is a vivid read, showing how high school football brought together communities during a troubled time." — Ed Sherman, Chicago Tribune
"In 1939, a team from Garfield, New Jersey, traveled to Miami for the high school football championship. The event drew wide attention. The upstart Garfield Boilermakers came from an immigrant-heavy northern city to face the perennial powerhouse Stingarees. The game remains legendary in Garfield, and veteran sportswriter Hank Gola tells the bigger story in City of Champions, a thoroughly researched and thoroughly engrossing work. In 1939, sports were wildly different, with years lost to the Great Depression and going for a field goal being regarded as a radical decision. Here, game-by-game accounts of Garfield’s 1937, 1938, and 1939 seasons come alongside the backstories of key players and coaches. Though the Boilermakers are the stars of the book, Miami’s team is covered in nearly the same depth. Gola deploys an impressive mix of interviews, news reports, and archival work to piece his story together. Game recaps retain an immediacy. Numerous photographs add extra details, as do useful appendices featuring rosters, box scores, and lists of player honors. Some of the book’s best material has little to do with football: Gola tells other stories about the towns and era that provide important context. He tells the harrowing story of immigrants on their way to Garfield aboard the Athenia, a British liner sunk by a Nazi torpedo the year of the championship. Another chapter explains the level of racial segregation in 1930s Miami, detailing incidents of African American stars from northern teams being unable to join their teammates in high-profile games. Near the end, Gola follows the players into World War II, telling some powerful individual stories—most notably, of a Jewish player’s quick thinking saving him from a concentration camp.These details flesh out the story while truly grounding City of Champions in its time and place. This is an excellent piece of sports writing, made even stronger by how it treats its characters." — Jeff Fleischer, Foreward Magazine