John Coy’s many books about sports are especially popular with young readers, and here he brings his knowledge of the history of basketball to tell a timely and inspiring story about John McLendon (1915-1999), the first black coach in the American Basketball Association.
Game Changer explores a historical milestone: On March 12, 1944, members of the white Duke University Medical School team played a secret, illegal game against a black team from the North Carolina College of Negroes in segregated North Carolina. The game, the first of its kind, was arranged by McLendon, who had studied basketball under the game’s inventor, James Naismith. McLendon went on to a successful college coaching career and popularized the fast-paced tempo of the game that we see today.
Randy DuBurke’s powerful illustrations evoke both the 1940s time period and the emotions of young men who understood they were making history on that quiet Sunday morning. Particularly effective are panels that show the “innovative fast-break style of McClendon’s team in contrast to the slower, more traditional style of play." Coy’s text, which includes a bibliography and a timeline, brings the actions of the game to life while at the same time gives young readers enough history to appreciate the event’s significance.
“Today, people don’t think twice about players of different skin colors competing with one another on the court, but it wasn’t always that way,” Coy writes. “Coach John McClendon and those brave players who rose to the challenge in the Secret Game were years ahead of their time.”
But who won? No spoilers here.
Deborah Hopkinson lives near Portland, Oregon. Her most recent book for young readers is Courage & Defiance.