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Carry the Rock: Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City Hardcover – September 14, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

High-school sports—like sports at every level—are seldom just about competition. Politics, money, ambition, and race are often as important as speed and strength. Jennings, a Sports Illustrated veteran, shadowed the football program at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, during the 2007 season. It wasn’t just any season; it was the fiftieth anniversary of the 1957 integration of the school. He traces the tumultuous racial machinations of the Little Rock school district through the years, noting the white migration to the suburbs and the rise of private schools, which serve as a haven for those who wish to avoid the mostly black public-school system. In this often-difficult environment, head coach Bernie Cox built a football powerhouse around discipline, accountability, citizenship, and tradition. But the anniversary year of 2007 would not be an easy one. The kids, seemingly divorced from the winning tradition, never bonded as teammates or, perhaps, were just not as talented as their predecessors. Jennings takes readers on a thoughtful, sometimes disheartening tour of urban high-school athletics, a tour that provides no answers but raises all the right questions. --Wes Lukowsky


"Carry the Rock transcends the season-on-the-brink genre." --Wall Street Journal

"Jennings seems to epitomize the journalistic ideal that stories aren't meant to tell people what to think, they're meant to tell people what to think about." --Sync Weekly

"Unsentimental yet inspiring..."
--Joe Queenan, author of True Believers: The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans and Closing Time: A Memoir

"When a native son juxtaposes passion for football and the tumultuous history of race relations in Little Rock, the result is a must-read page turner. " --Minnijean Brown Trickey, Little Rock Nine member

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Rodale Books; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605296376
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605296371
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,398,749 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jay Jennings is a freelance writer whose journalism, book reviews and humor have appeared in many national magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, the Oxford American, and Travel & Leisure. He is a regular contributor to the New York Times Book Review and the San Francisco Chronicle.

He began his writing career as a reporter at Sports Illustrated, followed by four years as the features editor at Tennis magazine. His work has been recognized by The Best American Sports Writing annual and has appeared in the humor anthology Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor. He is a two-time MacDowell Colony fellow in fiction and was awarded a grant in 2008 from the Arkansas Arts Council for a novel-in-progress.

Carry the Rock: Race, Football and the Soul of an American City was named a 2010 Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance. Most recently, he edited a collection called Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Long-Suffering Technology Consumer TOP 100 REVIEWER on September 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Non-fiction chronicles of a football team's journey through a season (whether at the high school, college or professional level) are a staple of American sports writing. The challenge for any writer trying to take on such a story is to provide a new way to illuminate what is essentially a sports writing genre.

Scheduled for release as America settles in for a new football season, Jay Jennings success in providing a unique perspective on a a basic story that's been told before. The team he chose for this book -the Tigers of Little Rock Central High School-- represent the legacy of the challenging history of racial integration in the United States.

Nominally the story of a season of high school football, Jennings weaves other threads throughout the book. Among these are the history of Little Rock itself, the challenges of integrating the schools there in the 1950s (and an unflinching look at the realities of this 50 years later), and modern issues that continued to shape the city (and the school)...especially how the paths of Interstate highways can mold the urban areas they pass through, for better or worse.

The football narrative is centered on the coaching staff, with the spotlight shining firmly on coach Bernie Cox as he steers the Tigers through 2007 season, his 35th with the team. The demands of time and myriad challenges facing the coaches (facilities, parents, academics, the foibles of teenagers, how to get 50 kids moving in the same direction for an away game...let alone getting them moving on the field in the same direction) are excellently laid out by Jennings.

Football fans looking for detailed descriptions of Xs and Os won't find them there.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By RB on October 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Carry the Rock" has a quiet power and is very different from typical sports books. First, the structure of the book is really smart -- it juxtaposes Little Rock history, politics, and educational issues with the struggles of the team during this historic year, fifty years after the Little Rock 9 became famous. The writing is clean, honest, and genuine. While the author never sticks his face in the way of the story, you can feel his compassion and sense how profoundly the year must have affected him, as well as the Central High Tigers.

The fact that Jennings can make school board politics and districts interesting attests to his skills as a writer. Most compelling, though, is his portrait of the coach, Bernie Cox. The coach is strict yet loving, and seemingly the perfect leader for Central High. Like the author, Cox possesses a modest dignity and understated wisdom. Cox doesn't so much "jump off the page" as seep through -- as does the team's heartbreaking season.

This book is the "Friday Night Lights" for a smarter reader: not as sensational, and there won't be a TV show, but Jenning's book is just as powerful. Anyone interested in sports, race, or the education of our kids will love this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Scott Schiefelbein VINE VOICE on October 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the spirit of the awesome, unforgettable "Friday Night Lights," Jay Jennings has written "Carry the Rock," an examination of Little Rock, Arkansas and the juggernaut football program of Central High School.

This may not sound like a story of national interest, but Little Rock is a city that deserves attention for a lot more than Bill Clinton and the HBO gangland expose, "Bangin' in Little Rock." Little Rock is a touchstone city for the history of the American civil rights movement, for both good and ill. Jennings retells one of the most shocking tales of lynching in American history, an event that leaves lasting scars on the city and the South. But Jennings balances it with the proud history of Little Rock, both in terms of American political life (Bill Clinton is not the only famous Arkansan in American politics) and its cultural impact. It would shock many proud Northeastern elites to learn that Central High in Little Rock was for years considered to be among the top public high schools in the entire country. And this city was also the site of the infamous Little Rock Nine - nine African American teenagers who dared to break the color barrier and gain admission to the prestigious, segregated school in 1957.

Fifty years later, the legendary Central High football team is also trying to defend its state championship title. Unfortunately, despite the presence of a legendary coach on the sidelines and some really terrific kids, they just don't have the horses to justify their preseason ranking as #1 in the state. Jennings writes with compassion and clarity as he follows the Tigers through their season of triumphs and failures.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mary G. Longorio VINE VOICE on January 6, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
During a pregame meal for a Arkansas high school, someone notices that both the coaching staff and the football team have self-segregated; black staff and white staff, black players and white players separate. It is a quiet but telling moment. Fifty years after nine black students faced screaming mobs and the hostility of staff and government while trying to enter Little Rock's Central High School.

The divide that matters most to Central High School's coach Bernie Cox is the divide between winners and losers. His 2007 football team is three years out from their last state championship and do not seem to have the drive and devotion to regain the title. Coach Cox tries to instill pride and structure in his team, but they are pulled in many directions....academics, family, social demands, teenage life...that seem to thwart his approach. Add to the mix the 50 year anniversary of the Little Rock Nine and the surrounding hubbub and you get Carry The Rock.

Author Jay Jennings follows the Central High School Tigers from summer practices through a frustrating season and season's end. Coach Cox is a powerful presence but his players are not fleshed out and remain one dimensional. The interwoven storyline of the struggle to integrate is actually the more engrossing. The real disappointment is how little the two seem to mesh...they intersect but there are few if any eyewitnesses to balance out the present with the past. Without those voices this book is good, but not great.
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