Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game

by John Coy (Author) Randy Duburke (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

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.


School Library Journal

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 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Starred 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 2015 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"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
Classification
Non-fiction
ISBN-13
9781467726047
Lexile Measure
1170L
Guided Reading Level
N/A
Publication date
October 20, 2015
Series
-
Orbis Pictus Award
Recommended 2016 - 2016

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