You are currently viewing From Kirkus, Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad: A sly touch of social commentary

From Kirkus, Bubba’s Dad, Duffy and College Football’s Underground Railroad: A sly touch of social commentary

A Spartan coach bucks the system in Shanahan’s illustrated children’s sports history.

Michigan State head coach Duffy Daugherty broke collegiate football barriers. Defensive end “Bubba” Smith’s own journey to Michigan State with his father, Willie Ray Smith Sr., sets the stage for a who’s who of men who helped Daugherty do so.

Starting in Texas, Smith and his father make stops in eight other states to pick up other talented recruits who would form a trailblazing Spartan lineup that “led the nation in integrated rosters” between the years 1959 and 1972.

From Clifton Roaf, the first Black recruit, to national title–winning quarterback Jimmy Raye and all-American Sherman Lewis, the author stresses the importance of each player’s life beyond the field; he writes that Duffy “cares about his players more than talent.”

Shanahan keeps the dialogue simple: Willie Ray plainly states how the players became recruits, notes their positions or status, and outlines the results of their educational pursuits.

Recurring cheeky retorts to home institutions that wouldn’t accept the athletes because of their skin color (“Too bad for Texas and Texas A&M they didn’t want Gene and me”) add a sly touch of social commentary.

In Lewis’ full-color illustrations, cartoon-style characters are depicted against cool-colored backdrops featuring state shapes, a train, and a few images that make clear the reality of the segregated times. The comic-book design suits the question-and-answer exchanges, which appear in speech bubbles.

The final two pages—one delineating the makeup of the 44 and highlighting their impact, followed by a page that lists the “The Big 44” chronologically from the first recruit in 1959 to the last in 1972—really drive home this important movement. (The men featured in the book are just a few from the group Shanahan calls “The Big 44.”)

This is a worthy acknowledgment of a significant aspect of American sports history.A look back at the integration of collegiate football.

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