Book and Author
Book – In the fall of 2008, the football team in Smith Center, Kansas – population: 1,931 – embarked on a quest for its fifth undefeated season, its fifth state championship, and a new state record for consecutive victories. But to do so, the Redmen faced a potentially destabilizing transition: the greatest senior class in school history had graduated, and their longtime coach, Roger Barta, was contemplating retirement. This moving portrait of Coach Barta and the young men of Smith Center is an unforgettable American story of how hard work, patience, and love propel one small town’s success.
Author – Joe Drape, a Kansas City native, is an award-winning sportswriter for The New York Times, and the author of The Race for the Triple Crown and Black Maestro. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, he previously worked for The Dallas Morning News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He moved his family to Smith Center from New York City to explore the way this small town revolves around “our boys” and to discover how it holds on to a way of life that is rich in value, even in tough economic times.
Published in 2009, 265 pages
Quote from Book – “None of this is really about football…What I hope we’re doing is sending kids into life who know that every day means something.” –Roger Barta, November 7, 2007
Awards and Honors – New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller List 2010
Discussion question about sports and children: Coach Barta is very clear about his approach to coaching high school football early on in Our Boys: “None of this is really about football…What I hope we’re doing is sending kids into life who know that every day means something.” His main goal is to raise the town’s children well, but do you think there’s something about his philosophy that actually helps the team win? Why?
Discussion question about parenting and community: Think about the differences between small town and city living. Do you think there’s something about living in a small town like Smith Center that deepens the impact of Coach Barta’s lessons? What kinds of opportunities does small town life offer kids? What about urban living? Do you think one is better than the other for raising kids?
More discussion questions address family, teamwork, small town life, coaching, superstition in sports, sportsmanship, parenting, and high school life.
Critic – “A great read for all…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
Author Interview – What drew Joe Drape to the story of the Smith Center Redmen?
“I had gone there in 2007 to write a story about the Redmen who, at that time, had won fifty-four games in a row and had set a national record by scoring seventy-two points in the first quarter of a game.
I’m a native of Kansas City, and look for stories in the Midwest. But two things that seldom happen occurred in Smith Center: First, I really clicked with Coach Barta and the Redmen’s athletic director, Greg Hobelmann, and several of the kids and townsfolk. I liked them. They were engaging and I didn’t feel like I was working. Second, when the story appeared, I received a tremendous response from readers who were taken by how much integrity and simple values the team and the town employed and lived by. I had been, too—a bunch. What it told me was that we all wanted a story that made us feel good about America and sports and ourselves.”
Inspiration: read the original New York Times article that inspired the book.
Spoiler alert: read about the game that breaks the team’s winning streak.
Many people have a connection to Smith Center, KS, or have experiences in a small Kansas town that make this book feel especially relevant or interesting.