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Against the backdrop of one of the most tumultuous periods in recent American history, as riots and demonstrations spread across the nation, the Tigers of poor, segregated East High School in Columbus, Ohio did something no team from one school had ever done before: they won the state basketball and baseball championships in the same year. They defeated bigger, richer, whiter teams across the state and along the way brought blacks and whites together, eased a painful racial divide throughout the state, and overcame extraordinary obstacles on their road to success. In Tigerland, Wil Haygood gives us a spirited and stirring account of this improbable triumph and takes us deep into the personal lives of these local heroes. At the same time, he places the Tigers’ story in the context of the racially charged sixties, bringing in such national figures as Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King Jr., and Richard Nixon, all of whom had a connection to the teams and a direct effect on their mythical season.
High school teams bear the symbolic weight of the civil rights movement in this intense sports saga. Journalist Haygood (The Butler) follows the Tigers of East High, an all-black school in Columbus, Ohio, through state championship basketball and baseball seasons in the 1968 1969 school year. The Tigers were already a basketball powerhouse they had won the previous year's championship and most games were predictable blowouts of weaker teams; the baseball players, meanwhile, had an undistinguished regular season, but got lucky in the postseason. Haygood emphasizes racial context as the teams weather the de facto segregation of Columbus schools, encounter racial antagonism at road games in white areas, and start wearing afros; he sets the narrative against national racial tensions, Tiger families' experiences of poverty and the jim crow South, and accounts of historic civil rights episodes like the Emmett Till lynching and Jackie Robinson's career. Haygood strains for socio-historical import ("nd so it would be eleven months after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. the black kids from East High would be going to the state championship game") and overhypes a season that doesn't feel very significant. Nevertheless, Haygood is a passionate storyteller as he expertly captures this period of civil unrest in an American city. Photos.