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Our Boys

A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen

Joe Drape

St. Martin's Griffin

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ISBN10: 0312662637
ISBN13: 9780312662639


320 Pages



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The football team in Smith Center, Kansas, holders of the nation's longest high-school winning streak, embrace a philosophy of life taught by their legendary coach, Roger Barta: "Respect each other, then learn to love each other and together we are champions."

But as the Redmen embarked on a quest for a fifth consecutive state title, they faced a potentially destabilizing transition: the greatest senior class in school history had graduated, and Coach Barta was contemplating retirement. In Smith Center—population: 1,931—this changing of the guard was seismic. Hours removed from the nearest city, the town revolves around "our boys" in a way that goes to the heart of what America's heartland is today.

New York Times sportswriter Joe Drape moved his family to Smith Center to discover what makes the team and the town an inspiration for miles around. And in a new afterword, Drape returns to Smith Center to chronicle even greater challenges as the streak enters its sixth year.


Praise for Our Boys

"‘Hoosiers' on a football field."—The New York Post

"The most improbable, unabashed love story I've read in years."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"A compelling story expertly told."—Pat Forde,

"Our Boys is about far more than football. It's an inspiring story about how a coach and a community are building young men with the simple values of love, patience, and hard work. This is a great book."—Joe Paterno, head football coach, Pennsylvania State University

"If you want to turn away from the high-voltage auctioneer babble that surrounds big-time, big-money sport, take this trip to Smith Center, Kansas, with Joe Drape. This is organic stuff, a fat and healthy slice of unadulterated American life. Simply terrific."—Leigh Montville, author of The Big Bam and At the Altar of Speed

"Our Boys delves into the heart of America in a manner that reminds me of The Last Picture Show and Friday Night Lights. Joe Drape crafts a terrific tale that will make you laugh, cry, and think. This is a story about small-town America that will make you shout."—Jim Dent, author of Twelve Mighty Orphans and The Junction Boys

"Joe Drape tells the remarkable story of the Smith Center Redmen, not only their success in winning football games, but also in swelling pride for a community and building character in young men. He shows that Roger Barta and the people in Smith Center are winners in every sense of the word."—Bob Stoops, head coach, University of Oklahoma

"Joe Drape has caught something deep and beautiful in Our Boys. It is true to the reality of life on the plains, much more than another football story."—David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi

"A great read for all, but even more so for big-city readers to get a taste of the quality of life and genuine caring of this small community and its revered teacher, mentor, and coach—Roger Barta. It is not so much a story about football but about the true meaning of midwestern values, family life, and the spirit of small town Kansas and its special people. I couldn't put it down."—Bill Snyder, head coach, Kansas State University

"Turning his attention from horseracing, New York Times reporter Drape follows a high-school football dynasty. In November 2007, the author's front-page Times article about the Redmen-A team from Smith Center, Kan., that had clinched four straight state championships garnered so much interest that he decided to uproot his family from New York and return to Smith Center the following year to see if the Redmen could make it five in a row. Drape's season-long enchantment with this quaint town (pop. 1,931) at the geographical center of the continental United States colors his account as much as his detailed coverage of the Redmen's incredible 2008 season, during which, despite having lost 12 seniors, the team averaged 50 points per game while holding opponents to a meager nine . . . [A]t the heart of this tale of fortitude is the strategic and motivational genius of Roger Barta, who, during 31 years as the head coach, has won 289 games and eight state championships. His simple mantra—"Life is not about winning or losing; it's about competing. It's about working hard and getting a little bit better each day"—instilled in his young players and devoted staff the work ethic required to sustain their remarkable success."—Kirkus Reviews

"Although Drape traveled to the Midwest to chronicle a record-setting high school football season, the tale he spins ends up being one that transcends athletics, a story of adolescence and small-town life. Smith Center, Kans., is a sleepy locale 90 miles from the nearest McDonald's, a place with more windmills than people . . . With a clear sensitivity toward the difficulties facing the Smith Center players, along with more than a dash of humor, Drape gives the reader a team worth rooting for."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
Championships aren't won on the field; they are only played there.
—Team motto for the summer, June 2008
There was nothing but blue sky, miles and miles of it, disturbed only by cotton ball clouds that drifted across...

About the author

Joe Drape

Joe Drape is the author of The Race for the Triple Crown and Black Maestro. He is an award-winning reporter for The New York Times, having previously worked for The Dallas Morning News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When he doesn't live in Kansas, he lives in New York City with his wife and son.

Heather Johnson

Joe Drape

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