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“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
“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
"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
"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
"Marantz's narrative will touch readers far beyond Omaha."—Alan Moores, Booklist
— Alan Moores
"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
"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
“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
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.
Foreword Susie Buffett ix
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
Posted July 18, 2012
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.