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Cover image for Game changer : John Mclendon and the secret game
Game changer : John Mclendon and the secret game
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : illustrations (some color) ; 24 x 28 cm
Reading Level:
NC 1170 L Lexile
Personal Subject:
"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"--Dust jacket flap.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available
Book J 796.323077 COY 1 1
Book J 796.323077 COY 1 1
Book J 796.323077 COY 1 1
Book J 796.323077 COY 1 1
Book J 796.323077 COY 1 1

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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.

Reviews 6

Publisher's Weekly Review

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. Ages 7-11. (Oct.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

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 Crowera 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 (Dukes 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 8844. Afterward, pushing the boundaries even further, the players evened up the teams for a friendly game of shirts and skins. Coys succinct narrative is well paced, compelling, and multilayered, focusing on the remarkable game but also placing it in societal and historical context. DuBurkes illustrations can be static at times but nicely capture the storys 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 days events secret to protect themselves and Coach McClendon). A fascinating story, with appeal far beyond sports- and history fans; appended with an authors note, a timeline, and a brief bibliography. martha v. parravano (c) Copyright 2015. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* 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 photolike 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.--Fletcher, Connie Copyright 2015 Booklist

New York Review of Books Review

ONCE A LION and a man were walking, and they saw a great bronze sculpture on a pedestal. A bronze man was locked in battle with a fearsome bronze lion. The bronze man had pinned the bronze lion to the base of the pedestal and was clearly about to win the fight. The man said to the lion, "What a battle that must have been, can you imagine that, a man beating a lion?" The lion said to the man, "No, I can't, but I can imagine that men are much better at making bronze sculptures." Children's books, with their deceptively simple formats and ideologically direct messages, are a fascinating pedestal on which we can view not only historical episodes but also the practice of history itself, as three new historically based picture books show us. Don Brown's "Aaron and Alexander" reads with a wit and economy of line that reminds one of a New Yorker cartoon. This one, though, ends in an image of guns firing and one man's journey to the grave. The storied duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton provides the book's scaffold. Along the way we glean bits of information about each statesman's life, framed as a set of parallels and contrasts. We learn about the contested work of nation-building that Hamilton and Burr were engaged in, and that both were orphaned but did well in school, fought in the Revolution and became lawyers. But the book's primary framing device is the gunfight and the argument between the two men that led up to it. At the climactic moment, a two-page spread shows only a pistol in each hand and the words "BANG! BANG!" drawn in block letters, blasting us back to a time when history was measured in important shootings. The duel-ridden dawn of the 1800s may serve as a touchstone for parents or teachers to discuss contemporary gun culture, first-person-shooter video games or gangster rap. But the book also represents the most traditional of historical practices, in which the world is presented as a series of events, battles, "discoveries," births and deaths, with everything culminating in scenes that are often apocryphal: Washington chopping down the cherry tree or Pocahontas saving the life of Capt. John Smith. "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. BY CONTRAST, IN "Hiawatha and the Peacemaker" the practice of history itself undergoes a radical transformation in the able hands of Robbie Robertson, the musician and songwriter, and the Caldecott Honor artist David Shannon ("No, David!"). While the importance of the Iroquois Confederacy is well known (it's even thought to have influenced the formation of the government of the United States), and the figure of Hiawatha has been depicted by artists including Thomas Eakins and Edmonia Lewis, the narrative of the creation of the confederacy by the Mohawk leader and his mystic companion, the Great Peacemaker, is ripe for mythologizing. With its breadth, richness and emotional weight, this retelling of the story opens up the historical narrative for inquiry, curiosity and wonder. There is no one central moment. Robertson's prose paddles through the river of Hiawatha's journey with an urgency, vitality and import that many historical texts lack. Shannon, whose work has always exhibited a painterly expertise, does particularly well here. He changes angles and distance rapidly, moving from a spare landscape of the Peacemaker's canoe cutting through the morning mist to a two-page spread of an eye close up reflecting Hiawatha's lost family. His visual storytelling includes a wide range of references: a borrowed palette from Paul Gauguin, or elsewhere a style reminiscent of traditional paintings on deer or buffalo hides. A book like "Hiawatha and the Peacemaker" asks young readers to understand that all stories can be told from different perspectives, that history is the collection of stories we tell ourselves about who we are. It suggests that even if we are not the ones who can sculpt bronze statues on marble pedestals, telling and sharing one another's stories is the only way we can come to an understanding of what history really means. Young readers invited into the past in such a way will surely investigate further the stories that make up who they are, and find new ways to make myths of their own histories. CHRISTOPHER MYERS is the author and illustrator of books for children and young adults, including, most recently, "My Pen."

School Library Journal Review

Gr 1-4-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 intergrated 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 social consciousness.-Ellen Norton, Naperville Public Library, Naperville, IL © Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

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. (author's note, timeline, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 7-11) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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