The following article first appeared in the January issue of Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine. Each month, it features selections of books, films, music and other media as part of a roundup of what’s in the queue, in the headphones or on the nightstand. Some have regional ties or loose affiliations to northern Arizona and some are picks just plain worth checking out.
Book Selection: Muckers by Sandra Neil Wallace. With January being the month of big college bowl games, the start of the NFL playoff season and the road to the Super Bowl, we wanted to put a spotlight on a great book about football. And, it also happens that this football story is also set in northern Arizona and is based on a true story. Muckers, by former ESPN sportscaster Sandra Neil Wallace, tells the story of the improbable season of the 1950 Jerome high school football team.
It turns out that, on what was set to be the final year of the Jerome High School, the football team made an unlikely run at the state championship. The decline of the town—with reduced mining and job loss—made its rally behind the underdog football team all the more poignant. As shared in the notes of the book, Wallace discovered the story of the Jerome Muckers football team while sifting through old letters.
The author, who has previously written two children’s books, pens a young-adult fiction novel here with panache and heart. She mostly appears to follow the narrative of the real-life story, while using her creative license to dive into a first-person narrative from the point of view of the quarterback, Felix “Red” O’Sullivan. Red is the brother of a past quarterback named Bobby, who was killed in World War II. And now, with the chance for glory before the school is shuttered, Red looks to muster his strength and will to lead the team to victory.
Muckers is a tale wonderfully told from O’Sullivan’s perspective. The reader faces the same struggles and conflicts square-on that he does. The boy’s mother has been institutionalized following a mental breakdown brought on by his brother’s death. His father is emotionally absent and Red is mostly on his own as he tries to navigate the choppy waters of high school, sports, love and growing up. In particular, his crush on a sophomore Latino girl named Angie is complicated by the sharper racial divides in the 1950 small-town setting.
Wallace is deft at capturing a sense of place. Her take on Jerome, called Hatley in the book, shows a balance of the mining that grew the community and the destruction that it has wrought. The novel, too, brings thrills with each of the games, which are well-paced and well-written scenes. Wallace also works in articles from newspapers that help set the time period and setting. And, as the story unfolds, readers will find themselves cheering on Red and the Muckers (even when they beat Flagstaff) in their pursuit of greatness.
— Compiled by the Staff