Joel Reichenberger: Home through different eyes
January 31, 2010
They don't write a lot of books about where I'm from. In fact, outside of the local history tomes that get cobbled together every so often, the only book I know of that even mentions the small farming town of Andale, Kan., is "The Hot Zone," a true story about an Ebola outbreak in a Washington, D.C., suburb that featured a doctor from Andale.
And the book I'm reading, "Our Boys" by Joe Drape, isn't about Andale, either. But it sure feels like it could be.
"Our Boys" is about the high school football program in Smith Center, Kan. Smith Center is a town in northwest Kansas. It's at least 90 minutes from anywhere anyone from Steamboat Springs ever is likely to go, but, boy, do they know how to play football. The Redmen pieced together one of the most impressive winning streaks in high school football history, dominating their state classification.
At first glance, Andale and Smith Center don't have a lot in common. Andale is 25 miles from Wichita, a city famous for being on the front lines of the abortion debate, for being the home of the serial killer BTK and for briefly having once hired Wyatt Earp.
Smith Center makes Steamboat look like a cultural and commercial hub. It doesn't have fast food, stoplights or a Walmart.
But it's a small Kansas town, and despite my proximity to Wichita growing up, small-town Kansas life is something I can identify with.
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In Smith Center, football is king, but only for those months. The players spend their winters playing basketball or wrestling and their springs running track. They spend their summers cutting wheat and working on the farm, just like I did.
It's a fun book to read, not only because I can identify with the town from my own childhood, but because it is reminiscent of Hayden and Oak Creek, their sporting efforts and the kind of children who grow up there.
But it's also kind of fun to read because when someone not from your lifestyle writes about it, mistakes are glaring.
Drape doesn't commit any unforgivable sins, but it's obvious the wheat harvest he witnessed as he wrote the book was his first, and he got an important detail wrong about my alma mater, Kansas State University.
Steamboat residents are about to get similar treatment once the Olympics start up. Many of the competitors representing the United States and Steamboat have grown up here. Their friends and family members are spread across town, and for 52 weeks a year, three years out of every four, those athletes are a part of everyday life here.
It will be fun watching the rest of the country and the world fall in love with them for a few weeks, and it will be nice knowing that no matter how they're portrayed on the big stage, they'll come back home to the friends who know the real stories.