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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: September 2005

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Hudy's Hardcovers: Stride for Stride a thrilling beginning for novelist Marshall

Stride for Stride: The Legacy of Bright Dawn
By Thomas Marshall

Ireland, the Emerald Isle, known for its luscious, rolling country sides, links golf is also the home of some of the greatest horses in the history of thoroughbred and steeplechase racing opens the first act in Thomas Marshall’s novel “Stride for Stride: The Legacy of Bright Dawn.”
The first-time author introduces the reader to Bright Dawn, a mare, ready to give birth in Ireland, but is involved in an early morning accident along one of the island’s many twisting, fog-ridden country roads.
Several miracles occur in the first few pages of “Stride for Stride,” the survival of Bright Dawn as well as the birth of her twins, highly unusual in thoroughbreds.
Born to the mare are a colt and a filly, referred to early on as foal number one and foal number two.
The connection contracted for one foal, the first born, the colt, not the second, his sister, the filly.
The equine group is taken in by the McGee’s, grandfather Jack, grandmother Anne, and the other heroine in the novel, Thresis.
The two young animals are cared for with a tremendous amount of love and care by the McGee’s, especially Thresis, who is enthralled by the thoroughbreds. Eventually the two are named by Thresis McGee’s secret benefactor with help from the McGee’s two colorful neighbors, the Kelly brothers, Bernard and Brendan. The twin thoroughbreds, the books primary characters, are called King Stephen and Most Innocent.
The story develops with the colt, King Stephen, raised with his mother, Bright Star, eventually being sent to America, as planned. The miracle birth of the twin, the smaller built filly, Most Innocent, is kept from the ownership group. While slightly untruthful, the lack of disclosure proves to be legal.
Thresis McGee has dreams of becoming a horse trainer and Most Innocent is to be her first love as well as her first thoroughbred.
Over the early pages, the young horses grow quickly, King Stephen, more than his sister, Most Innocent, and the back story is developed for Thresis. Her father, Jimmy McGee, was the pride of the Isle as an accomplished actor and eventually married an American socialite Jennie Alexander. The two were killed shortly after Thresis was born in a plane crash.
When returned to the late 1950s, King Stephen, is ready to shock the racing world with his up-front blazing speed. The spectacular colt is trained by American hotshot, Archie Miller, who utilizes a methodical, hard training, scheduling style to train the horses of his owner, George Steimetz. It is his assistant trainer, Ronald Curry, who befriends King Stephen, with his gentle, carrying manner and plays the hero to Miller’s villain on the backstretch.
While King Stephen is making his mark in America, Most Innocent is given her opportunities at a slower pace back in Ireland.
Being slower and somewhat lacking the killer, thoroughbred instincts of her brother, Most Innocent is brought slowly along by Thresis and her middle-aged trainer Eammon Daly.
Marshall also introduces two endearing, colorful characters into his plot line with the introduction of John Quinn and Marco the Romanian, a jockey who doesn’t talk to people, only to horses and a horse whisperer who can communicate with horses.
While strange in description, the group, making up “Team Innocent” enjoys frustrations, hopes, dreams as well as growing success with Most Innocent.
The success of King Stephen is quick and un-stifled, by his systematic trainer and boisterous owner, winning at Belmont, the Saratoga Special and Hopeful, as well as the Wood Memorial. At the age of three, he is pointed to Triple Crown and quickly proves that he is a true contender.
Most Innocent finds her way, becoming a winner, including the prestigious Irish contest, the Irish Futurity.
The secret of the twin foals is first revealed to Miller during his trip to Ireland and the fate of the two horses becomes once again intertwined when the decision is made to ship Most Innocent to compete in the United States.
The success of King Stephen appears unstoppable, winning “the” races at Churchill Downs and Pimlico before fate rears its ugly head, just days before the final leg of the Triple Crown.
The decision is made that if King Stephen cannot compete in the Belmont Stakes, than his sister, Most Innocent, will compete in his honor.
Just like a pack of thoroughbreds rounding the far corner turn heading for the homestretch, the final chapters are not to be missed as they glue the reader to the pages like a bettor trying to decipher a photo finish with their naked eyes.
A lifelong racing fan and race horse owner, Marshall brings his experience from the oval race circuits, familiarity on the backstretch and emotions from the owner’s box as credible references in his first work.
“Stride for Stride: The Legacy of Bright Dawn” is the starting point for his Bright Dawn series and his first work does not disappoint. “Stride for Stride” The Legacy of Bright Dawn” is a delightful, flowing work, ideal for the reading on a dark day during the Saratoga Race Course season.

Rating: 5 Hudy Heads out of 5

Hudy's Hardcovers: Where Dreams Die Hard

Where Dreams Die Hard
By Carlton Stowers

As the August breezes begin to pick up, the days start to become shorter and thoughts return to fall, the end of the summer season brings about the start of another season, the high school football season.
Thousands of players will have participated in two-a-day practices throughout the dog days of August, all in the hopes of winning games, setting records and pursuing championships.
The only difference between most of the squads competing in the United States and the 112 public high school teams competing throughout Texas, is that they do it a little differently. For those smaller Lone Star Schools, whose student enrollment falls below 100, they play under their own Friday Night lights in the glorious game of six-man football.
Author Carlton Stowers became tired of his own newspaper’s front pages, dedicated to the misdoings of others, bombings and mayhem he had seen from a news reporter’s eyes. He made the decision to turn his reporter pen and pad towards a quieter town, in a quieter portion of Texas and follow the world of six-man football for a season.
His travels took him to the small town of Penelope and it’s populous of 211 residents and the Wolverines six-man football team.
The railroad had left Penelope in 1960 and so went with it the cotton commerce that brought people to it. In 1963 the high school made the decision to abandon its football program. In 1999 a student, Marvin Hill, prodded by his classmates asked the superintendent requesting that football be re-instated in the Wolverines fall season.
The game of six-man football was established in the late 1930’s as a sport for the small rural schools. It involves three lineman, three backs and a quarterback. Traditionally it is played on an 80-yard field, 15-yards are needed for a first down, 10-minute quarters are played and all players are eligible to receive a pass. Also included would be a 45-point mercy rule after the first half was complete.
With the help of the superintendent and an open board of education, donations flowed in to field a team that first season. As the interest continued year after year, a playing field, all two-acres of it, was purchased, grass planted and goalposts were acquired when a neighboring school moved up in class, they too were sent to Penelope.
It would be Hill who made history, scoring the first-ever touchdown for the Wolverines that first season.
Fast forward to 2004 when Penelope is led by coach Corey McAdams, the former state championship quarterback and college star at Hardin-Simmons University. It would be his job to bring the Wolverines back on a winning track, turning the tide on the squad’s current 1 win, 31 loss record.
Stowers takes the reader onto the practice field, into the hallways of Penelope High and into the homes of the players, their families and their lives.
It is a different type of life in the small towns in Texas, something that many suburban readers may have a hard time comprehending.
When the entire town turns out for a football contest, they may not fill most local high school auditoriums, the coaches drive the bus to away games, that is if his players show up on time after they finish building a sheep fence.
“Where Dreams Die Hard” is not as hard hitting as the best selling “Friday Night Lights”, but Stowers stills delves into issues that would make any towns population uneasy. It is the picture that Stowers paints of the small towns in Texas, the wins and the losses by the Penelope High Wolverines squad that make the book so enjoyable.
The length of “Where Dreams Die Hard,” is also agreeable to the reader with its 201 pages, fitting for a sport which boasts just 12 players on the gridiron compared to the traditional 22. Stower’s work has intrigue, history, heartwarming stories about the players, their families as well as the author’s own relationship with his dying father.
While they may host smaller lineups, play in front of smaller crowds, the characters in “Where Dreams Die Hard” are focused on success every Friday evening under the Texas sky, proving that things in Texas are bigger, especially the hearts of those playing six-man football.

Rating: 4 Hudy Heads out of 5