Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City
by Jay Jennings
Rodale • $25.99 • September 14, 2010

My initial interest in Jay Jennings' Carry the Rock was personal: I graduated from Little Rock Central High, where much of the book's action takes place. I attended countless Tiger football games and watched the team bring home two state championships. One of the coaches depicted in the book taught my ninth grade P.E. class. And I cannot remember a time when I did not know about the Little Rock Nine.

Much like Friday Night Lights, Carry the Rock is about a specific football season—in this case, the 2007 season. In Little Rock, this season was significant because the year marked the 50th anniversary of the Central High Crisis.

Carry the Rock juxtaposes the football season with Little Rock's (sometimes ugly) history, touching on how much—or little—things have changed since the school was forced to integrate. The numbers of black and white students may look good today (close to 50-50 when I was a student), but is there real community? As reviewer Pete Croatto notes in the October issue of BookPage, "[Jennings] shows that a sweeping social change does not guarantee acceptance—that many courageous, selfless acts must still be performed year after year, and there are no assurances that those acts will be acknowledged."

Although Carry the Rock will likely find its largest audience within Central Arkansas, anyone interested in the history of Civil Rights, the politics of an urban public school or the inner-workings of an underfunded football team will enjoy this book.

To give you a taste, here's a short excerpt that describes a problem with the 2007 players:

Through most of the season, the 2007 Tigers had frustrated all the coaches' attempts to foster passion and unity in them. Some years it came pretty easily, and the players did most of the work for the coaches. The championship teams of 2003 and 2004 were like that; the players, black and white, had hung out together, spent time at each other's houses, formed deep and lasting friendships. "Any really good team is made up of guys who are friends," Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Knight once said, "guys who want to help each other and play together." Nancy Rousseau, the principal of Central, remembered the school's atmosphere around those teams as "electric, absolute magic." The excitement during that time, her second and third years as principal, "permeated everything." Those teams had bonded, this one had not.

If Carry the Rock makes you want to learn more about Little Rock history, I'd recommend reading Warriors Don't Cry, a memoir by Little Rock Nine member Melba Pattillo Beals, or Sara Alderman Murphy's Breaking the Silence, about what happened when Arkansas governor Orval Faubus closed Little Rock's high schools in 1958 rather than allow integration to continue (aka the "lost year").

By the way, for all you readers who'll be at SIBA this weekend, Jennings is speaking on Friday at 11 a.m. (Carry the Rock is a 2010 Fall Okra Pick.)

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