My rating: 4 of 5 stars
During the NCAA tournament these past few weeks, I needed something to do in between the games. As I was looking for a book to read, I found my autographed copy of Thornridge in my “to read” pile, and figured that this was a perfect time to read a book about basketball.
*Confession time: the author of this book is a friend of my father and a great guy whom I know personally. So it was extra fun to read his book, which is obviously a labor of love*
Thornridge High School, located near Chicago in the state of Illinois, was one of the schools that integrated in the late 1960s. African-American students were bused in to the predominantly white community for high school at Thornridge. There were a lot of racial tensions during the period, and Thornridge was no exception. But a remarkable group of basketball players, both black and white, came together in the 1971-72 basketball season to go undefeated and win the Illinois state title. More importantly perhaps, they brought together a community in a troubled time.
This book is an excellent example of how to do local history right. Lynn was exhaustive in his quotations, allowing the Thoridge High players and coaches to speak for themselves, along with gathering the remarks of many others connected to the perfect season: rival players and coaches, family members of the Thornridge players, and Illinois media members who covered the team during their 1971-72 season. The players and other witnesses to the perfect season shine through in Lynn’s book, almost as though you are sitting in the room with them, hearing them recall their historic performance.
The chapters in the book alternate between recaps of the games and context chapters, which talk about the integration and each of the main players in the drama: coach Ron Ferguson and starters Mike Bonczyk, Quinn Buckner, Boyd Batts, Greg Rose and Ernie Dunn. The bench players on the team even get a chapter, despite the little time they had in actual games. It is an excellent technique to keep the reader involved, and I felt like I got to know each of the players very well.
Lynn is not a professional historian (he is a sportscaster) but he understands how to tell a story and how to give historical context. Many chapters begin with a setting of the scene, where Lynn reviews what kinds of stories were in the news and what songs were hits on the radio. For anybody that experienced the 1970s (and I am not one of those people) this is a great way to easily recall the period. Even though I do not remember the ’70s, I appreciated these little windows into what was going on at the time of the events in the Thornridge season.
Because Lynn is a sportscaster, and clearly a basketball fan, the recaps of the games are detailed. For more casual fans of basketball, this might be a bit of a turnoff, but I found that I was so interested in the players from reading their memories of the season, that I stayed with it. For anybody who loves basketball, they will enjoy these game recaps immensely.
Overall, Thornridge: The Perfect Season in Black and White is an excellent work of local history. If you are a basketball fan, or just someone who enjoys a good story of people performing at their highest level, you will enjoy this book.