Once upon a time in sports...
By Dan Perry
Dan, an un-athletic 12-year-old boy, has trouble making all the
sports teams; despite his understanding of the games' strategies
and his memorization of all the stats, he can't quite fit in with
his sports-obsessed, small-town classmates. One day, he finds a
series of books in the library, but will they be enough to keep
him out of therapy when he's in his 20s?
A typical plot line -though slightly less realistic- greets the
sixth-grader on the back of every book in the exciting world of
Matt Christopher, the serial novelist who carried -the little guys-through
their every fantasy of becoming an unlikely sports legend.
The Hockey Machine, Soccer Halfback, Tough to Tackle and Too Hot
to Handle are some of his more notable works, all of which rolled
the joy of sportsmanship and victory into moral lessons. Through
the magic of sport, any problem -including academics, drugs, family
trouble and even the much-feared opposite sex- could be solved for
Christopher's young protagonists in about 120 pages.
In The Hockey Machine, Steve Crandall takes a ride home from a
stranger in a limousine. Before he knows it, he's held prisoner
with his teammates on the madman's elite junior team in an obsessive
quest for a league title. Though the boys don't win it all, they
manage to get away before it's too late and learn a valuable lesson
in the end -after some well-described games of kick-ass-and-take-names
hockey, of course.
New Matt Christopher books are still rolling off the presses, though
like Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene before him, the author
has a secret -he passed away in 1993- and several writers have carried
on the series under his incredibly successful identity. Boys and
girls everywhere can still relive the magic of Mr. Baruth in The
Kid Who Only Hit Homers, then watch the ghost's magic be dashed
by his counterpart Cheeko in the sequel Return of the Home Run Kid.
One of Christopher's most memorable novels, Red Hot High-Tops,
broke new ground by focusing on a girl named Kelly's magical shoes
that carry her basketball team to win after win. Of late, though,
I'm skeptical of works starring girls like Windmill Windup; the
sport of fast-pitch, sadly, has been reduced to a weaker, more ladylike
baseball. Christopher's progeny have forgotten his early, uplifting
tales and replaced them with marketable, oppressive filler.
you can see the complete disillusionment of my childhood, as the
site hocks Christopher's new books about snow boarding and other
"extreme" sports. He now lends his name to cheap biographies
of Tiger Woods, Shaquille O'Neal and Mia Hamm, completely cashing
in on children's most unrealizable dreams by introducing them to
their favourite sneaker salesperson at a younger age.
Though co-opted of late, I'm reminded of Boots Raymond's struggle
in Tough to Tackle. Like Boots, I wanted to be the quarterback,
too. But despite being assigned to tackle (read: the bench) because
of my size, reading Christopher's books was all that kept me from
quitting the team -at least until a combination of girls, cars,
beer and academics accomplished the feat a mere three years later.