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The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball at the '68 Racial Divide

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Overview


In the spring of 1968, the Omaha Central High School basketball team made history with its first all-black starting lineup. Their nickname, the Rhythm Boys, captured who they were and what they did on the court. Led by star center Dwaine Dillard, the Rhythm Boys were a shoo-in to win the state championship. But something happened on their way to glory. 
 
In early March, segregationist George Wallace, in a third-party presidential ...
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Overview


In the spring of 1968, the Omaha Central High School basketball team made history with its first all-black starting lineup. Their nickname, the Rhythm Boys, captured who they were and what they did on the court. Led by star center Dwaine Dillard, the Rhythm Boys were a shoo-in to win the state championship. But something happened on their way to glory. 
 
In early March, segregationist George Wallace, in a third-party presidential bid, made a campaign stop in Omaha. By the time he left town, Dillard was in jail, his coach was caught between angry political factions, and the city teetered on the edge of racial violence. So began the Nebraska state high school basketball tournament the next day, caught in the vise of history. The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central tells a true story about high school basketball, black awakening and rebellion, and innocence lost in a watershed year. The drama of civil rights in 1968 plays out in this riveting social history of sports, politics, race, and popular culture in the American heartland.
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Editorial Reviews

Ian Thomsen

“Four decades after George Wallace ignited a race riot in Omaha, Steve Marantz goes home to tell the story of a high school basketball team and its tragic star. A heartbreaking look inside the lives of white and black students fighting and falling in love as they grow up amid historic upheaval.”—Ian Thomsen, columnist and feature writer for Sports Illustrated
Lisa Salters

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central isn’t just about a basketball team—it’s about life—and how ugly, often tragic, inspiring, and so wonderfully hopeful it can be . . . all at the same time. As a basketball fan, I was riveted by this story—and couldn’t help think about the other ‘Rhythm Boys/Girls’ there have been throughout our country’s unique history—and about just how far we have come.”—Lisa Salters, ESPN

Tom Shatel

The Rhythm Boys reminds us again how sports mirror society. It happened in Omaha in 1968, but it could be the story of any team in any city. What do you get when you mix the passion of basketball with the passion of race? You get a great book.”—Tom Shatel, sportswriter for the Omaha World Herald

ForeWord

"As a narrative of an American high school united by basketball and torn apart by the times, Marantz hits a nothing-but-net three-pointer."

—Karl Helicher, ForeWord

— Karl Helicher

Omaha World-Herald

"Marantz . . . paints an entirely credible picture of the times, placing that infamous Omaha week in the historical context of an infamous year." —Michael Kelly, Omaha World-Herald

— Michael Kelly

Booklist

"Marantz's narrative will touch readers far beyond Omaha."—Alan Moores, Booklist

— Alan Moores

Ultimate Fan

"Through it all, this talented team reeled off a string of victories, in a way trying to will its way through the bubbling tensions and bring the community together as sports often do. Sometimes, life gets in the way."—Jerry Milani, The Ultimate Fan

— Jerry Milani

Great Plains Quarterly

"Despite the grim prognosis of the Rhythm Boys' community, Marantz presents a halcyon moment when these five extraordinary highschool athletes made anything seem possible at Omaha Central."—Amy Helene Forss, Great Plains Quarterly

— Amy Helene Forss

ForeWord - Karl Helicher

"As a narrative of an American high school united by basketball and torn apart by the times, Marantz hits a nothing-but-net three-pointer."
—Karl Helicher, ForeWord
Omaha World-Herald - Michael Kelly

"Marantz . . . paints an entirely credible picture of the times, placing that infamous Omaha week in the historical context of an infamous year." —Michael Kelly, Omaha World-Herald
Booklist - Alan Moores

"Marantz's narrative will touch readers far beyond Omaha."—Alan Moores, Booklist
Ultimate Fan - Jerry Milani

"Through it all, this talented team reeled off a string of victories, in a way trying to will its way through the bubbling tensions and bring the community together as sports often do. Sometimes, life gets in the way."—Jerry Milani, The Ultimate Fan
Great Plains Quarterly - Amy Helene Forss

"Despite the grim prognosis of the Rhythm Boys' community, Marantz presents a halcyon moment when these five extraordinary highschool athletes made anything seem possible at Omaha Central."—Amy Helene Forss, Great Plains Quarterly
Ian Thomsen

“Four decades after George Wallace ignited a race riot in Omaha, Steve Marantz goes home to tell the story of a high school basketball team and its tragic star. A heartbreaking look inside the lives of white and black students fighting and falling in love as they grow up amid historic upheaval.”—Ian Thomsen, columnist and feature writer for Sports Illustrated

Kirkus Reviews

A strange tale involving George Wallace, race relations and high-school basketball in Omaha, Neb.

ESPN researcher, former journalist and Omaha Central alum Marantz (Sorcery at Caesars: Sugar Ray's Marvelous Fight, 2008) walks a fine line between impartial reporter and impassioned participant in telling the story of the 1968 Omaha Central boys' basketball team, a talented team more notable for its unlikely role in the tapestry of the civil-rights movement than its on-court success. Featuring a rare all-black starting line-up led by star Dwaine Dillard, the "Rhythm Boys" (a nickname both stylishly apropos and implicitly racist) demolished opponents in a community that evinced an outward tolerance of racial and religious differences but featured distinctly separate white, black and Jewish neighborhoods. On the eve of the state playoffs, a visit from segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace lit the waiting match of racial tension, leading to a series of riots and the arrest of Dillard, who was either out to harm Wallace or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Regardless, the tumultuous events derailed the team's championship hopes, as a lingering malaise spurred by Dillard's off-court troubles doomed them against a less-talented but sharper-shooting team in the title game. Marantz's meandering account wants for more riveting in-game descriptions of the team's prowess, and the blurred line between the author's role as a journalist chronicling the events and a classmate of his subjects makes for a jumbled composition. Still, the author spotlights a bizarre intersection of sports, culture and politics amid a volatile decade that deftly highlights how momentous, community-changing events could occur far away from the bright lights of major metropolitan areas.

Despite a sometimes muddled narrative, Marantz presents an ultimately compelling snapshot of an era—and a city—in the throes of social upheaval.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780803234345
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/2011
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 810,400
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author


Steve Marantz is an Omaha Central graduate and the author of Sorcery at Caesars: Sugar Ray’s Marvelous Fight. A researcher for ESPN Content Development and E:60, and a coeditor of sportsmediaguide.com, he formerly covered sports, government, and politics for the Kansas City Star, the Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald. Susie Buffett, a 1971 graduate of Omaha Central, is the eldest of Warren Buffett’s three children and runs the not-for-profit Sherwood Foundation.
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Table of Contents

Foreword Susie Buffett ix

Prologue xv

1 First Bell 1

2 Tears of a Clown 19

3 Summer of '67 35

4 Just Their Imagination 53

5 So Glad They Made It 73

6 Get on Board 89

7 Jupiter Aligns 103

8 "A Mongrel Unit" 123

9 Wallace for President 141

10 Darkness, Darkness 161

11 The Broken Hearted 175

12 Last Bell 195

13 Their Beat Goes On 213

Postscript 219

Acknowledgments 229

Index 235

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2012

    Worthwhile book

    This is the story of a high school basketball team that lost the state championship due to racial unrest in Omaha, the result of a George Wallace campaign visit.

    Author was a witness to the events of the time. Story is well told.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews

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