At the center of a small university campus in the middle of the United States is a mysterious fountain shaped like a basketball. On either side: two ten-foot-tall monoliths of Indiana limestone etched with the sad, grave words memorializing an incomprehensible tragedy.
On December 13, 1977, this Methodist college town’s entire five-time champion basketball team—its twenty-nine coaches and players—perished in the sudden crash of Air Indiana Flight 216, shortly after takeoff. The sense of grief has never left. Now, on the cusp of 2020, as the seasons turn toward a forty-third year of rebuilding both a town and its “Purple Aces” basketball team, the memorial at the University of Evansville offers its constant reminder to those passing through, and still more to those who call it home: “Out of the agony of this hour, we will rise.”
A triumph of narrative nonfiction, We Will Rise is the finely drawn, meticulously researched, page-turning portrait of the men that perished, the community that survived, and the race for prominence on the national basketball stage. Steve Beaven, a native of Evansville, IN, and the son of a season-ticket holder, has spent the better part of his professional career in journalism obsessing over the before, during, and after of the crash and of the lives caught up in it—from families of its victims, to the newscasters, teachers, and Whirlpool factory workers who struggled to find meaning in a God-like blow. We Will Rise pays tribute to their experience and shows us that cradle of American character called the Midwest.
As with Hoosiers, The Last Shot, and Friday Night Lights, the stories most worth telling about sports often involve tragedy, because what is real and lasting about triumph without it? Here is the greatest story of basketball you’ve never heard.
— Barry Harbaugh and Erin Calligan Mooney, Editors