Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game

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9781467726047: Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game
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When they piled into cars and drove through Durham, North Carolina, the members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team only knew that they were going somewhere to play basketball. They didn't know whom they would play against. But when they came face to face with their opponents, they quickly realized this secret game was going to make history.

Discover the true story of how in 1944, Coach John McLendon orchestrated a secret game between the best players from a white college and his team from the North Carolina College of Negroes. At a time of widespread segregation and rampant racism, this illegal gathering changed the sport of basketball forever.

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About the Author:

John Coy is the author of the picture books Strong to the Hoop, Around the World, Hoop Genius, Game Changer, and Their Great Gift. He lives in Minneapolis and visits schools nationally and internationally.



Randy DuBurke has been a professional illustrator for over twenty years. He has done comic book art, animation, editorial illustration, book covers, and children's books. He lives in Switzerland with his wife and two children.

Review:

"With eloquence and grace, this picture book tells the story of how one spring Sunday afternoon in 1944, two basketball teams came together to change the history of the game. The Duke University Medical School basketball team met secretly in a small gym to play against the North Carolina College of Negros in the first ever integrated basketball game. Though rules kept black and white teams from playing each other, John McLendon, coach of the North Carolina College of Negros, 'believed basketball could change people's prejudices.' At first both teams were uncertain, but they soon got into the spirit of things. For their second game, they mixed up the teams so that white and black athletes could play as teammates. Coy doesn't sugarcoat the tension of the period but still makes the story accessible. DuBurke's soft but powerful watercolor illustrations effectively emphasize the importance of inclusivity and overcoming differences. This interesting but little-known story is an important one. VERDICT: A strong work with themes of sports, history, and human kindness."―School Library Journal

(Journal)

"In North Carolina, 1944, Jim Crow laws against 'race mixing' meant that no playoff system existed to determine, definitively, whether the black powerhouse team of North Carolina College for Negroes could best the nationally acclaimed basketball players from Duke. A clandestine match-up, now dubbed 'The Secret Game,' would answer the immediate question but would also become anti-segregation legend. Coy adheres closely to Scott Ellsworth's description of the game, recounted in his 1996 New York Times article, which Coy cites in a selected bibliography. Audiences watch the Duke players hustle across town in the early hours of a Sunday morning and sneak into the NCC gym, with its doors promptly locked. The nervous players stumble through the opening plays, and then hit their stride and have such a good time (88 to 44, NCC) that they stick around for a second game: shirts and skins, with the two teams mixed. It's a great story, as far as it goes, but Coy's omission of background leaves readers wondering just how this game was ever organized, and why it was Duke's medical school students rather than the Blue Devils who took on NCC. DeBurke's mixed-media illustrations, with their muted colors and grainy photorealism, are a fine complement to the text, and the manual typewriter–styled font cleverly underscores this 'report' from the past. Pair this with Raven's Let Them Play (BCCB 2/06) for a readaloud on teams who challenged segregation."―The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

(Journal)

"A picture-book account of a historic, secret basketball matchup in the Jim Crow South. Amid widespread segregation and rampant racism in 1944 Durham, North Carolina, black players and white players came together to play ball. The legendary African-American coach John McLendon, who learned the game from its founder, James Naismith, is depicted in this true story as a man with foresight and the courage to step beyond the bounds of the color line for friendly competition. An undercover, illegitimate contest he helped to arrange between the Duke University Medical School and the North Carolina College of Negroes demonstrated that blacks and whites could play together, some 22 years before Texas Western would win the national championship with an all-black starting five. DuBurke's arresting illustrations play up the basketball action and the emerging camaraderie that conjured the possibility of defeating Jim Crow. In its focus on the so-called Secret Game, however, and its tailpiece that assures readers that 'today, people don't think twice about players of different skin colors competing with one another,' the story is a bit kumbayah. Yes, the NCAA and NBA are integrated, but the Donald Sterlings of the world show there is still work to be done. Though necessarily brief and lacking in nuance, the story is nevertheless a charming read for young basketball fans."―Kirkus Reviews

(Journal)

"Game Changer, written by John Coy and illustrated by Randy DuBurke, takes a different approach to the practice of history, presenting an 'uncovered' story set against the backdrop of an accepted narrative. This book frames its narrative around good folks who fought injustice, racism and segregation through their participation in a sporting event. We learn about a secret college basketball game in the Jim Crow South in which blacks and whites―forbidden from officially competing in the same league―played against one another, then sat around together afterward talking, 'the way basketball players do.' It's the kind of story from which 'inspirational' movies are made, in which there are no villains but the occasional local who says something like, 'That's not how we do things 'round here.'
Where Aaron and Alexander reiterates the importance of already celebrated historic figures, Game Changer resurrects the lesser-known John McLendon, the African-American basketball coach of the North Carolina College for Negroes team, who made the 'secret game' against the Duke University Medical School team happen, and the players on both squads who challenged tradition and played together.
DuBurke's illustrations are appropriately historical in feel. The basketball scenes are rendered in sequences as quickly paced as television montage. Muted tones and a vintage newsreel patina add a veneer of authenticity. The historical bent of the storytelling is perhaps less authentic, weaving between reportage and occasional shortcuts intended for dramatic effect, as when Coy claims that some of the white players who grew up in the segregated South of nannies and footmen and countless service employees 'had never been this close to a person of a different color.' This book adds new heroes to the pantheon, yet continues the tradition of seeing the practice of history as being about electing heroes and creating unified narratives."―The New York Times Book Review

(Newspaper)

"In an account brimming with suspense and emotional tension, Coy (Hoop Genius) and DuBurke (Best Shot in the West) show how a game of college-level basketball one Sunday morning in 1944 helped provide a glimpse of the future of the game and of a segregated nation. The man behind the game was John McLendon, coach of the North Carolina College of Negroes' Eagles, who masterminded the clandestine meet-up between his team and the all-white squad from Duke University Medical School, at a time when segregation laws prohibited play between black and white teams. Initial uneasiness―the athletes, 'some of whom had never been this close to a person of a different color, were hesitant to touch or bump into one another'―gave way to a game in which the Eagles trounced Duke using a hard-driving fast-break style; a follow-up match saw the teams blending their ranks. DuBurke's shadowy images in pencil and paint have the feeling of long-buried photos snapped in secret, while Coy skillfully highlights both the energy and importance of the game and the dangerous social climate in which it was played."―starred, Publishers Weekly

(Journal)

"This book offers a slice of history and an inspiring portrait in courage by detailing one basketball game that white and African-American teams dared play in defiance of segregation. The game took place in 1944 Durham, North Carolina, a time when the Ku Klux Klan deemed that 'race mixing' was punishable by death. Coach John McLendon of the North Carolina College of Negroes 'believed basketball could change people's prejudices' and invited players from the Duke University Medical School, an all-white team, to play a 'secret game' in his college's gym. The game shows how the white players were blown away by the new, fast-break style of McLendon's players, losing 44 to 88. The players then mixed it up in a 'shirts and skins' game, with whites and African Americans on both teams. In lively detail, Coy describes the game that advanced race relations in sports, reminding readers that this took place three years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. DuBurke's use of cyan and sepia tones within his photo-like illustrations perfectly conveys the look of the 1940s and the energy of the game itself. Information on Coach McLendon and a time line of integration in sports concludes this exciting account of a landmark game played ahead of its time."―starred, Booklist

(Journal)

"Based closely on a 1996 New York Times article by Scott Ellsworth, this picture book tells the dramatic story of an illegal college basketball game planned and played in secret in Jim Crow–era North Carolina. On a Sunday morning in 1944, while most Durham residents, including the police, were in church, the white members of the Duke University Medical School basketball team (considered 'the best in the state') slipped into the gym at the North Carolina College of Negroes to play the Eagles, a close-to-undefeated black team coached by future Hall of Famer John McClendon. What happened when 'basketball of the present' (Duke's three-man weaves and set shots) met 'basketball of the future' (the Eagles' pressure defense and fast breaks) is suspenseful, dramatic, and telling: the Eagles beat Duke 88–44. Afterward, pushing the boundaries even further, the players evened up the teams for a friendly game of shirts and skins. Coy's succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered, focusing on the remarkable game but also placing it in societal and historical context. DuBurke's illustrations can be static at times but nicely capture the story's atmosphere, from the tension of the Duke players' covert arrival to the basketball action to the post-game geniality and then back to tension (since all parties, including several newspaper reporters, had to pledge to keep the day's events secret to protect themselves and Coach McClendon). A fascinating story, with appeal far beyond sports and history fans; appended with an author's note, timeline, and brief bibliography."―The Horn Book Magazine

(Journal)

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