For Book Review No. 8, C. Vivian Stringer's Standing Tall: A Memoir of Tragedy and Triumph. What is going to happen when there are no opportunities for kids from hard-scrabble backgrounds to shine? Add Coach Stringer to the ranks of successful sports coaches from Appalachia, and think of all the mid-twentieth-century greats in economics out of industrial cities (frequently from the Jewish neighborhoods therein). Mrs Stringer wrote this memoir shortly after the 2007 basketball tournament, in which her Rutgers team made it to the final game, only to be beaten by Tennessee (another coach from a hard-scrabble background, another team that was within an ace of being knocked out) and mocked by a radio host for reasons unrelated to basketball.
It was the getting there, though, that gives the memoir structure. That team lost a lot of games early in the season. "Now, talent will get you through at the high school level. You can carry too much weight, or have slow feet, or a weak left side, and your natural gifts will sustain you. Frankly, just being tall in high school can be enough." (Page 246.) Get to the next level, where everyone is really talented, it's not. "Their minds were weak, and their bodies were making them cowards." (Page 247.) Fatigue makes cowards of us all. That's something Mrs Stringer might have learned young, and in music. Her father, Buddy Stoner, was a pretty good musician, and his daughter learned something about improvisation, but confessed to not seeing the point of running through scales. She got beaten out for a musical performance, however, by someone else whose sight-reading skills might have been augmented by those hours of arpeggios.
And thus a formula for getting previously weak teams deep into the tournament, with teams from three different universities (Cheyney State, Iowa, Rutgers) into the title game. It's not in any fancy X-and-O plays, it's in the proper passing technique, proper footwork, proper stance.
Or, as generations of long-suffering graduate students heard from me whenever they challenged me for being picky, take care of the o-rings and the space shuttle will take care of itself. The generalization, dear reader, to your field of endeavor or to your ambition or to your passion, is straightforward.
(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)