All of these lines across my face - tell you the story of who I am - so many stories of where I've been - and how I got to where I am - but these stories don't mean anything - when you've got no one to tell them to - it's true - I was made for you. B. Carlile

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Underdog Team. Underdog Town: a book review

"All you have to is show up.  Everyone with balls makes the team, I don't mean the family jewels.  I mean guts, I mean backbone, I mean heart." 
                                  excerpt from Blind Your Ponies written by Stanley Gordon West

Blind Your Ponies follows the Willow Creek Broncs; a basketball team with a reputation for failure.  Willow Creek is a small town set underneath the shadows of the Tobacco Root Mountains in southwest Montana.  Stanley Gordon West admits that this book is fiction, but has a lot of truth interspersed.  The year is 1991 and the Broncs are facing another season with the memory of 5 win less seasons in the immediate past.  But as much as this story is about a team, it is about a town- a town that seems to have the same reputation as the team.  You see, the winters in this part of the U.S. are brutal.  Cold, windy, snowy...constantly.  The surrounding towns have very little to do or look forward to so they turn to their town's team.  Nothing makes for a long winter like a losing team.  And this team of 6 has little hope of an early spring.

The story wouldn't be all that interesting without the characters involved.  West sucks you in from the start with tragedy that strikes the head coach years before Willow Creek is even a thought to him.  Most of the characters involved have their own difficulties to deal with and use basketball as an escape. Its neat how the town itself is a character; fading away with its own losing.

Sam Pickett is the head coach and believes that is life is a record of how to become and stay a loser.  It started in middle school when a port-a-potty was turned over while he was inside.  These events have created a closed off soul unwilling to let himself love or believe.

Tom Stonebreak, 6'4", is a senior and has never won a game.  He is a true cowboy.  The kind of guy you may be afraid your wife would leave you for.  He decides to forgo his senior season and prepare for the rodeos coming in the spring.  His drive and toughness seem to be perpetuated by a longing to prove himself to his abusive, alcoholic father. 

Peter Strong, 5'11", has just showed up to live with his grandmother; leaving Minneapolis following his parents divorce.  Neither of his parents could keep the guy so they shipped him out; his girlfriend in turn found her another man.  I like the way West puts it as his grandma describes his situation: facing "the howling void of eternity alone".

Olaf Gustafson, 6'11", flies in as an exchange student from Norway.  The buzz around town is filled with hope when they hear of his size; but are sorely discouraged when they find out he has never played before.  He has a Yoda-like grasp of the English language and has the basketball skills of a child learning to walk.

Grandma Chapman is the redemption in the story.  Full of hope and optimism, she believes things are looking up.  Alot like the town, she has seen some tough years.  However, a certain event in her life has given her perspective.  One line says it all: "She never again valued herself by the opinion of others, wishing she had been strong enough to live her whole life that way."

The book is full of ups and downs.  It will give you hope one minute and leave you in a funk the next.  I guess that is what I like about good books: they put you in a place, leaving you with the emotions felt in the story.  This book takes you to Willow Creek.  You'll feel the coldness of the winter and smell the mustiness of the old court and find yourself gripping the pages like a fan on the edge of your seat.