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Booktalking: "Backfield Boys" by John Feinstein

Backfield Boys book cover

Two extraordinary teammates named Jason Roddin and Tom Jefferson keep football—and life—rolling at Thomas Gatch Prep School, aka TGP. The best friends had been recruited from New York City to play football in a quieter town near Charlottesville, VA; Tom is a quarterback, Jason, a receiver. They manage to convince their parents that playing football at TGP is a great opportunity for them, despite the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI). The boys love the game, and TGP is the realization of their dreams.

Or so they think. When the boys step onto the boarding school campus, two surprises await them: 1. They are placed in separate dorm rooms. 2. Tom is put on the receiver string and Jason is placed on the quarterback string.

Why would TGP recruit talent and then simply waste it?

Tom is black and Jason is white, and the boys undertake some sleuthing to get to the bottom of how race fits into TGP sports. The teens research the school's history and discover that it has never had a black quarterback, despite the fact that half of the football players are black. There are also no interracial dorm rooms on campus.

Coincidences? Perhaps not. The boys converse with journalists who are intimately familiar with the school's spotty racial history. Many suspect that Coach Johnson and the school's founder, Thomas Gatch, are racist, but this is difficult to prove. 

Should the boys abandon the school's hostile atmosphere and simply go home to their parents? It is definitely a tempting prospect, but they decide to stick it out. Neither expected the school to be set squarely in the midst of racial tension. The coaches target Jason and Tom for speaking out, and they are branded as troublemakers. It does not feel great for them to constantly fight the administration, either covertly or overtly—they just want to use their strengths to play ball effectively, without their coaches' superficial expectations and rejection of their skills.

Backfield Boys by John Feinstein, 2017

I am not a big football fan due to the incidence of traumatic brain injury in the sport, but this is a brilliant novel about a valiant group of teens that fight blatant racial bias in their prep school.

Books about football

Books about racial discrimination in sports

John Feinstein's website



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