The Underdogs

The Underdogs

4.5 90
by Mike Lupica
     
 

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New York Times bestseller Mike Lupica tackles football!

Will Tyler may not be the biggest running back around, but no one can touch him when it comes to hitting the hole and finding the end zone. And no one can match his love of the game. When Will has a football in his hand, life can't touch him—his dad isn't so defeated, his town isn't so poor, and

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Overview

New York Times bestseller Mike Lupica tackles football!

Will Tyler may not be the biggest running back around, but no one can touch him when it comes to hitting the hole and finding the end zone. And no one can match his love of the game. When Will has a football in his hand, life can't touch him—his dad isn't so defeated, his town isn't so poor, and everyone has something to cheer for. All of which does him no good if the football season is canceled. With no funding for things like uniforms and a well-maintained playing field, with every other family moving to find jobs, there just isn't enough money or players for a season. It's up to Will to rally the town and give everyone a reason to believe . . .

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Praise for The Underdogs:
 
“There's plenty of action for sports fans, and readers will root for Will and his teammates till the very last page.” –School Library Journal
 
“[F]ootball fans will…respond to the detailed and exciting game action once the season gets rolling and find inspiration in Will and his teammates' tenacity.” –Publisher’s Weekly
 
“Will's ingenuity and loyalty are encouraging, causing readers to want to cheer him on as he makes his dream come true.” –VOYA
Publishers Weekly
Twelve-year-old football talent Will lives and breathes his sport. And he's not about to let the tough times suffered by his western Pennsylvania town—including a major factory closure—signal the end of the football program he loves. With a Hail Mary pass–effort, Will makes a passionate plea to footwear maker New Balance and secures funding to play if he can pull together a proper team. He eventually rallies an unlikely group—including a girl and Will's father as reluctant coach—worthy of a championship. Lupica (The Batboy) again nails the emotions of likeable kids who just want to play, and who aren't too overscheduled or distracted for neighborhood pick-up games. Frequent mentions of the history and hardships of Will's town and references to the nearby favorite pro team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, help keep this Cinderella story grounded in contemporary reality. Despite a sluggish start and a familiar trajectory, football fans will likely respond to the detailed and exciting game action once the season gets rolling and find inspiration in Will and his teammates' tenacity. Ages 10–up. (Aug.)
Children's Literature - Justina Engebretson
Football is more than just a sport to twelve-year-old Will Tyler; it is the very air he breathes. Unfortunately, though, there is not enough money for a twelve year old football team this season in the town of Forbes, Pennsylvania. Once upon a time, Forbes had been home to the factory that produced the Forbes Flyers, once a very popular athletic shoe brand. However, the factory has long since been shut down and with it, many jobs lost. Now it is up to Will to save the football season. In a daring attempt, Will writes a letter to the CEO of New Balance, requesting that they sponsor Forbes seventh grade football team. Much to his surprise, he receives a letter back stating that New Balance will indeed sponsor the football team. Now the only problem is coming up with enough players for a team and finding a coach; however, despite these minor details, the Forbes Bulldogs have their football team complete with the right amount of players, including Hannah Grayson (the new girl in town), and the perfect coach. When game day arrives, they lose but as the season goes on, they prove to get better. Before they know it, the championship game has arrived and once again Castle Rock and Forbes meet to battle it out. Only this time, Will is determined the game will not end like last year's championship game. Pre-teen boys will enjoy this middle reader, particularly those who love the game of football, as will some girls. Reviewer: Justina Engebretson
VOYA - KaaVonia Hinton
Seventh grader Will Tyler has been playing football for as long as he can remember, but this year, pickup games and fantasy football seem to be the only way he will experience the sport. The sneaker factory in his hometown of Forbes, Pennsylvania, is closed, leaving many in the community distraught and destitute. The national unemployment rate is hovering around 9 percent; the people are feeling the repercussions, and it is affecting their children. There is not enough money in the city's budget to support the football league, and they need new uniforms. Football is Will's heart, so he refuses to accept that losing sponsorship will equal the end of his city's team. He huddles with his friends and comes up with a plan that allows everyone to root for their favorite team, the underdogs. The scenes are descriptive and put the reader in the middle of the action, whether Will is playing football on a team or kicking a ball around with Hannah Grayson, the new girl with whom he is enamored. The plot is predictable and a bit melodramatic, but Will's ingenuity and loyalty are encouraging, causing readers to want to cheer him on as he makes his dream come true. Reviewer: KaaVonia Hinton
School Library Journal
Gr 4–7—Twelve-year-old Will Tyler and his widowed dad don't have much, and their small Pennsylvania town is fading since the athletic-shoe factory closed down several years earlier. But Will has football—until he finds out that the town council can't come up with the funds to keep the youth teams going. In a desperate Hail Mary move, he sends a heartfelt letter to the New Balance CEO asking for funds. When he gets word that the company is going to sponsor the team, Will thinks their troubles are over—until he discovers that several families are leaving Forbes for towns with more promise of jobs. Suddenly, there's a real possibility that there might not be enough players to make a team. Will encourages his dad, who has avoided the sport since a serious knee injury ended his own career, to sign on as coach, and together they convince the guys to take a chance on Hannah Grayson, a new girl who has a killer kick. The Bulldogs (or Underdogs, as Will fondly calls them) are on the roster, but it's still an uphill battle: with so few players, nobody sits out during the games. Sure enough, the team solidifies and gives the town something to cheer about. While the plot reads like a feel-good Hollywood movie, even Lupica's minor characters have depth and the dialogue rings true. There's plenty of action for sports fans, and readers will root for Will and his teammates till the very last page.—Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews

A 12-year-old halfback with a huge passion for football fights to keep his team on the field.

Will Tyler keeps reliving the final play of the previous year's championship, when his team came so close before his fumble caused the loss to their well-heeled rivals across the river. Unfortunately, budget cuts may keep the town from fielding his team this year. Like other manufacturing towns, Forbes, Pa., has lost jobs and businesses that might sponsor a sports team. Will takes a chance, writes to a national company and comes up with the funds to keep the team going. That was almost the easy part: The team no longer has a coach, former players are not interested and skepticism abounds. One of the few who want to play is Hannah, a new girl in town with great ability and as much grit as Will. For Will's dad, who has agreed to coach, and his teammates, this is nearly a deal-breaker. Sports-loving readers will identify with Will, whose heart and determination leap off the page. His budding friendship with Hannah rings true and contributes to his growth on and off the field. The relationship between Will and his widowed dad provides an emotional touchstone, while the desperation of a small town trying to hang on permeates the story.

Authenticity and texture combined with well-paced football action make for another solid outing from Lupica. (Fiction 10-14)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780142421390
Publisher:
Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
05/15/2012
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
111,458
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.82(d)
Lexile:
840L (what's this?)
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt

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Chapter 1

 

Just about everybody who’d ever seen Will Tyler play said the same thing—that he could fly on a football field.

He was definitely flying now.

Ball tucked firmly in the bend of his arm, open field in front of him. A slight wind at his back. Not that he needed it.

At midfield he made an effortless cut to his left, switching the ball from his right hand to his left in the process.

Will did it without even thinking, did it on instinct, one more move that nobody had to teach him. Not even his dad, who’d been a star running back in this same town, on this same field. Back when the field was in much better shape. And the town was, too.

But Will’s dad always said that even on his best days, all the way through high school, he was never as fast as Will.

“You’ve got that gear,” he told Will once.

“What gear?”

“That extra gear that the great ones have,” Joe Tyler said.

Will shifted into that gear now.

Flying, like the wind at Shea Field wasn’t just behind him, it was trying to keep up with him. At the thirty he cut back again, back to his right, angling toward the sideline. Switching the ball back to his right hand. Imagining that he was watching himself on one of those giant screens most NFL stadiums have now, pretending he was trying to see if anybody was gaining on him.

Knowing that nobody would be.

Twenty-yard line now.

Fifteen.

Only the end zone ahead of him.

And that’s when he went down.

He hadn’t been tackled. He’d stepped into a hole at the five-yard line. He hadn’t seen it because he had his eye on the prize, like always. Just felt his right foot go into it, the leg collapsing, like he’d been tripped. Like he’d been caught from behind. Just like that.

Will was mad. The beat-up field at Shea was the only thing that could stop him. And it had. And had cost him a touchdown. Of course he knew it could have been worse, he could have rolled an ankle or hurt his knee the way his dad had once. It had been his senior year in high school. His dad hadn’t stepped into a hole, though. He’d just made a cut into the secondary and thought he was about to break into the clear when he got hit by tacklers from both sides, at the same exact moment, their helmets meeting at his right knee.

In so many ways, too many ways for Will to even count, it was a hit from which his dad still hadn’t recovered.

Will had gone down hard but knew he was all right, knew he would have no trouble getting back up. The only burn he was feeling now was embarrassment.

The same he’d felt last season after the fumble against Castle Rock.

He sat there, ball under his arm, thinking:

It’s a good thing I’m alone.

Alone with his ball, alone on this field, no teammates or opponents there to see him trip and go down, nobody to see somebody this good at football look so bad.

He turned and saw how deep the hole was. One of many at Shea Field, a field that the town seemed to have forgotten, or maybe just given up on, the way it was about to give up on a football team and a football season for twelve-year-olds like Will Tyler.

The town council of Forbes had made it clear a couple of weeks earlier that there wasn’t enough money in the budget to finance all the local sports teams, as it had in the past. They’d said that some of the younger age groups might have to suffer so that no programs were cut at Forbes High School. They’d said it was more expensive than ever to finance football teams, telling the parents there had been barely enough in the budget to let Will’s eleven-year-old team compete last season in the West River Youth Football League, Forbes’s version of Pop Warner. Now unless somebody in town could come up with the money in a few weeks, enough money to cover membership in the league, helmets, uniforms, field maintenance, emergency services, insurance—what Will’s dad called “the full boat”—there would be no football for twelve-year-olds this year.

No team, no practices, no games, no shot at the league title Forbes had come within a touchdown of winning last season.

Maybe, Will thought—alone on this field, two yards short of the end zone—a run like this in an imaginary game would be the only kind he would get to make this year.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Praise for The Underdogs:
 
“There's plenty of action for sports fans, and readers will root for Will and his teammates till the very last page.” –School Library Journal
 
“[F]ootball fans will…respond to the detailed and exciting game action once the season gets rolling and find inspiration in Will and his teammates' tenacity.” –Publisher’s Weekly
 
“Will's ingenuity and loyalty are encouraging, causing readers to want to cheer him on as he makes his dream come true.” –VOYA

Meet the Author

Mike Lupica is the author of many novels for sports fans. His columns for the New York Daily News are syndicated nationally, and he is a regular on ESPN's The Sports Reporters. Partial to the little guys, Mr. Lupica enjoys coaching youth basketball. He lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, with his wife and their four children.

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