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Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football's Forgotten Town
by Bryan Mealer
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0307888622, Hardcover)How can a small high school in one of the nation’s sorriest towns--a swampy Everglades burg ravaged by drugs, AIDS, crime, violence, and poverty--produce a football team that’s sent dozens of players to the NFL? In Mealer’s gritty year-in-the-life narrative of Glades Central High’s Raiders, answering that question becomes an exploration of much more than football. The history of the Everglades, the influence of Big Sugar, Haitian immigration, and the obsessive devotion of a homegrown coach all play their part. Though Muck City covers similar turf as Friday Night Lights, Mealer makes it clear that “this is not that story.” The Raiders have no team bus and no booster club; student turnout for games is pathetically low. And yet, in the unlikely setting of central Florida’s loamy muck, “high school football was salvation itself.” --Neal Thompson
Guest Review by Ben Fountain
Ben Fountain is the author of, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk. He has received the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for Fiction, a Whiting Writers Award, an O. Henry Prize, two Pushcart Prizes, and two Texas Institute of Letters Short Story Awards, among other honors and awards. His fiction has been published in Harper's, The Paris Review, Zoetrope: All-Story, and Stories from the South: The Year's Best, and his nonfiction has appeared in The New York Times and The New York Times Sunday Magazine, among other publications. His reportage on post-earthquake Haiti was nationally broadcasted on the radio show This American Life. He and his family live in Dallas, Texas.
Welcome to “the Muck,” aka Belle Glade, Florida, an impoverished farming town of 17,000 surrounded by seas of sugar cane and vegetable fields. A mere forty-minute drive from the tony streets of Palm Beach, Belle Glade is the home of Glades Central, a 99% minority high school that’s the poorest in the state. Pretty much every ill that you can imagine afflicting children in 21st-century America, Glades Central’s got it: gang violence, drugs, murder, teen pregnancy, broken homes; that the school has historically abysmal test scores and dropout rates should surprise no one, and yet Glades also happens to boast one of the highest-ranked football programs in the country, one that sends an average of eight players a year to NCAA Division I programs, and has had over thirty players reach the NFL in recent years.
“This place, they got speed like nowhere else,” says a college coach in town on a recruiting trip. What Katherine Boo did for Mumbai in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Bryan Mealer does right here in our own backyard with Muck City. Mealer dives headfirst into the history and culture of the muck to show not only why it’s one of the greatest concentrations of raw football talent in the world, but also what the sport does to the school, the community, the families, and most of all to the children who actually go to Glades Central and play the games.
Because for all their mind-boggling physical talent, that’s what they are, children searching for a way out of a town that offers too little opportunity, too much temptation, and the daily prospect of violent death. “I’m looking to get as far away from this place as possible,” says one player. “My dad lived until he was twenty-one years old. If I stick around here, I probably won’t even make it that long.”
For generations, football has been seen as the ticket out, and over the course of the 2010 season, Mealer gives us intimate portraits of a rich cross-section of students, parents, and coaches. We get to know “the beautiful freak” Kelvin Benjamin, a blue-chip prospect with ungodly natural talent; Jamarious Rowley, the undersized quarterback who goes the entire season with a torn ligament in his shoulder, playing through concussions, self-doubt, and the vicious criticism of the town; and head coach Jessie Hester, ex-Glade Central star and NFL veteran who says “I’m not here to win championships, I’m here to win kids.” But what about the 96% of the student body that doesn’t play football? Mealer explores this side of it too in the story of Jonteria Williams, a girl of superhuman drive whose day starts at 6 a.m. and doesn’t end until midnight, all in the service of realizing her dream of becoming a doctor.
Even for the supremely talented and lucky players who “make it” thanks to a football scholarship, one wonders how far they’ll get. Football seems a slender reed on which to pin one’s hopes, and Mealer’s narrative is filled with players who washed out because of injury, ego, bad luck, immaturity, or simply having more obstacles in their way than any human could reasonably hope to overcome. Once, while regarding a classroom full of elementary school students, James Baldwin wondered, “What will become of all this beauty?” Reading Muck City, you marvel at the beauty, and despair over its prospects in an unnaturally harsh world.
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:26 -0400)
In a town deep in the Florida Everglades, where high school football is the only escape, a haunted quarterback, a returning hero, and a scholar struggle against terrible odds.
Is this you?
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