Drawing comparisons to the 1990 bestseller Friday Night Lights, this football narrative chronicles the evolution of high school football in Belle Glade, Fla.—among the poorest communities in the U.S. and defined by the fertile black silt that helped build a sugarcane-farming empire. The city, populated predominantly by African-Americans and Hispanics, is home to Glades Central High School, an academic underachiever whose football team has sent more than 30 players to the NFL since 1985. Mealer (The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind) followed the 2010 Raiders in pursuit of a record-breaking seventh state championship and introduces readers to Kelvin Benjamin, an agile six-foot-six receiver nicknamed “the beautiful freak” who is rabidly pursued by college recruiters; former migrant worker–turned–NFL receiver Jessie Hester, who returns to coach his alma mater at a critical juncture in the program’s storied history; and orphan Mario Rowley, an overweight quarterback who (like most Raiders) considers football his only means to escape the persistent presence of gunfire, drugs, and AIDS. Mealer recounts Belle Glade’s colorful history, reports from living rooms and locker rooms, and perfectly captures the area’s distinct dialect. (Oct.)
Belle Glade, FL, is a depressed small town on the shore of Lake Okeechobee that historically has been economically reliant on sugar corporations. Known as "Muck City" for its rich soil, it is now a dysfunctional community plagued by high rates of poverty, drugs, AIDS and violent crime, but still has produced more than 30 NFL players over the years. Focusing on several players from the Glades Central High School Raiders, six-time state champions, as they try to succeed in the face of long odds, this book profiles the 2009 season—the final year of Coach Jesse Hester, a former Glades player who once played pro football. Mostly, the book functions as a well-reported snapshot of the present disheartening reality of life among the underclass. VERDICT Of interest more to sociologists than to football fans.
High school football players and other residents of hardscrabble Belle Glade, Fla., fight for their pride and their lives in this chronicle from veteran reporter Mealer (All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo, 2008, etc.). The rich soil of the region around Lake Okeechobee, known to locals as "muck," produces cane sugar and other valuable crops. It also produces professional football players (including current star Santonio Holmes) at a surprising rate, especially considering the equally staggering rates of crime, disease and poverty in the area. Glades Central Raiders and their attempt to win a state championship in the 2010 season are the focus of this entry in the inspirational sports genre. At the center is former NFL wide receiver Jessie Lee "Jet" Hester, who has returned to Belle Glade a hero and agreed to take over as coach of his former team in an attempt to give back to his hometown. The book also spotlights two of the players--wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, expected to follow Hester to NFL stardom, and linebacker turned underdog quarterback Jamarious "Mario" Rowley--as well as the head cheerleader, Jonteria Williams, who dreams of becoming a doctor. No one on the team or in the town escaped untouched by tragedy, and Hester learned that trying to give back is not without its own pitfalls. The source material, including some fascinating history of the Okeechobee region, is compelling enough without the author's occasional slips into purple prose, and the chronological jumps in the narrative can be confusing. But there is real drama here, with the stakes much higher than the question of who wins or loses the big game. Mealer tries a little too hard to tug at the heartstrings; nonetheless, he offers a stirring tale of sports as a means of escape from dire circumstances.
"Just as the black muck "seeps into your socks and under toenails," by the end Muck City will have made its way into you and be difficult to forget." - Jay Jennings, New York Times
“This is another version of Buzz Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights (1990), and since both are less about football than they are about family, community, and the horrific struggle to rise above poverty, each boasts a unique set of characters who are well worth knowing. A heartbreaking look at poverty in America, with some football on the side.” - Booklist (starred review)
“Muck City is like Friday Night Lights as imagined by Richard Price. It's a sad, powerful, and evocative portrait of a benighted placeand an accidental indictment of our nation's strange cultural priorities, to say the least. The people of Belle Glade have their ideal chronicler in Bryan Mealer. Go Raiders!” – Tom Bissell
“Beautifully written and expertly reported by Bryan Mealer, Muck City is like nothing I’ve ever read. Set against the backdrop of Big Sugar, in a region of muck, this is the endless story of desperation, betrayal and the will to win. Muck City turned out a legion of great football players. How they got there shatters all myths, and will shake your senses.” - Jim Dent, author of The Junction Boys and Courage Beyond The Game
“Like all great writing about football, Muck City takes the nuances of sport and succeeds in illuminating the larger life lessons. This book casts a well-trained eye on what goes on beyond the Friday night lights. Bryan Mealer is a major talent, and Muck City a tremendous accomplishment.” - Gary Myers, author of The Catch and Coaching Confidential
“Muck City takes the reader deep into the experience of football, poverty and hope.” - Gregg Easterbrook, football columnist, ESPN
“Superbly reported and deftly told, Muck City is much more than a narrative about high school football. It's an utterly compelling story that careens between triumph and tragedy, good and evil, hope and despair, a richly evocative account of the people and the culture of Belle Glade, Florida, a place of silt and sorrow and a very special football field.” - Wayne Coffey, co-author of the New York Times bestseller, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball
"Mealer recounts Belle Glade’s colorful history, reports from living rooms and locker rooms, and perfectly captures the area’s distinct dialect." - Publisher's Weekly
“A multi-layered immersion tale that is a lot more ambitious than simply following the Glades Central High School football Raiders….Belle Glade is a notoriously tough town for journalists and outsiders to penetrate, but Mealer largely succeeded in winning over enough of the locals — starting with Hester, his besieged coaching staff and players, plus school administrators and key members of the community — to bring Muck City to life, warts and all.”—Miami Herald
“A lesson-filled trip into the past, a compelling, richly told story of the tragically flawed 2010 Glades Central football team….Muck City takes you to a place that, if you aren’t a reporter or a local football player or coach, you won’t ever see or experience. And, like any good piece of nonfiction, Muck City leaves you asking more questions than you started with.”—Palm Beach Post
“There is real drama here, with the stakes much higher than the question of who wins or loses the big game…. a stirring tale of sports as a means of escape from dire circumstances.” - Kirkus