Reforming "established practices": Clair Bee's post-scandal Chip Hilton books.
On a certain level, Sperber's argument, as well as some of his evidence, makes sense. In a 1939 profile of Bee, Stanley Frank attributes the coach's success at LIU to what he euphemistically terms "rugged realism," quoting Bee as saying, "To hell with moral victories or a lost game well played" (11). Moreover, Sperber's argument fits into a main thread of much sport-related scholarship in America, i.e., poking holes in the mass-mediated mythology of sport as a separate, purer aspect of the culture. And ripe for ironic poking, it would seem, are the twenty-three Chip Hilton books Bee wrote between 1948 and 1966. (Bee wrote a twenty-fourth novel, Fiery Fullback, which was not published until 2002.) In addition to Sperber's attack, Stanley Cohen in The Game They Played (1977), Charley Rosen in The Scandals of '51 (1978), and Albert Figone in "Gambling and College Basketball: The Scandal of '51" (Journal of Sport History 16, Spring 1989), all take Bee to task, leaping gleefully into what they perceive to be the damning gap between reality and the Hilton fiction.
In all of these studies, especially Sperber's, I argue that more focus is on coach Bee than on author Bee. If one is intent on making the point that, within Bee's world there exist "deep contradictions," or what Sperber refers to as differences so great between coach and author that he wonders if Bee "suffered from multiple-personality disorder," (321) then it would seem that one has to examine the writings of author Bee as carefully as one examines the problems of coach Bee. I argue in this essay that all of these authors, especially Sperber, did not read the Hilton books carefully. I am not denying that there are ultimately unresolved contradictions between coach Bee and author Bee, but I am arguing that there are important philosophical differences between author Bee and the seven Hilton books he wrote prior to the 1951 point-shaving scandal and author Bee and the Hilton books he wrote post-scandal from 1952 on. In particular, I focus on two books, Dugout Jinx and Freshman Quarterback, both published in 1952 when the sting of the point-shaving scandal was still fresh in Clair Bee's mind. In these books, I argue, Bee began the process of re-identifying himself, becoming a writer exclusively rather than a coach and writer. As part of this process, Bee began re-evaluating and reconstructing his own sporting world by addressing the problems he saw, some of which he created, and positing in his fiction a better and certainly more idealized sports world. Moreover, and contrary to the contention of Sperber and the others cited above, that the themes of the books never change, I intend to show that the values embedded in the post-scandal books are markedly different from the values found in the pre-scandal books.
In his 1980 Sports Illustrated profile of Bee, lack McCallum notes that Bee was writing the Hilton books when the gambling scandal broke "but he never made the scandal part of his books" (60). Michelle Nolan echoes McCallum's point in her chapter on the Hilton books in Ball Tales: A Study of Baseball, Basketball and Football Fiction of the 1930s through the 1960s, arguing that Bee's revisiting the events of the scandal in fiction would have been inappropriate and out-of-date by the time the college basketball novels appeared (133). Like Sperber, though, Nolan may not have read the post-scandal novels carefully enough.
Bee, who was 83 at the time McCallum interviewed him for his magazine piece, said of the point-shaving scandal, "I thought about putting it in ... because I figured nobody could write it as well as I could. But, then, I don't know ... Maybe today if I was writing I would have done it. But it didn't seem right, you know "(60). But if ever there was a case of trust the tales, not the teller, this is it. While on the surface Dugout Jinx and Freshman Quarterback appear to have nothing to do with the basketball gambling scandal, they can be read, I argue, as virtual romans a clef for the events at Long Island University leading to and following the point-shaving upheaval.
The text of Dugout Jinx replicates many of the scenarios that Bee and his players found themselves in during the 1950-1951 season, although in Bee's reconstruction of his sports world the fictional events conclude quite differently. Commenting on how embittered Ring Lardner was by the Chicago Black Sox World Series fix in 1919, Eliot Asinof observes in Eight Men Out that Lardner's subsequent harsh treatment of ballplayers in his short stories stemmed from the scar the fix left on his psyche (198). No doubt Bee, whose LIU team ranked as high as number three in the country in 1951 and whose star, Sherman White, was selected as The Sporting News's player of the year, was devastated by the point-shaving scandal. Harold Uplinger, one of the "clean" players on that team, claimed that the scandal "drove a spike into the heart and soul of Clair Bee" (personal correspondence). While Bee dealt with the events of the point-shaving scandal in slightly veiled terms, his treatment was anything but bitter. And it can be no coincidence that the first post-scandal Hilton book, Dugout Jinx, is dedicated to "Harold Uplinger, Student, Athlete, Friend." Uplinger was a starting guard on the LIU team that year, a player good enough to be selected to the All-Metropolitan New York second team ("Zawoluk, McMahon On Met All-Star Five"). More importantly for Bee, though, Uplinger remained loyal to his coach, and he stayed in school to finish his degree even while his teammates, White, Adolph Bigos, and LeRoy Smith, were awaiting trial for conspiring with gambler Salvatore Sollazzo to fix games.
Freshman Quarterback is the story of Chip Hilton's first few months and first football season at State University following an all-state, All-American career as a high school quarterback and basketball player, as well as displaying pitching prowess that branded him as a Major League prospect. Ultimately, of course, and after overcoming an assortment of plot-dictated difficulties, Chip stars in the same three sports on the college level. Nothing new about that. But Freshman Quarterback marks a change in Chip Hilton's attitude--and certainly Clair Bee's attitude--towards big-time college sports, a change that becomes clear when this first book of his college career is contrasted with the seven Valley Falls High School books that precede both it and Dugout Jinx.
Bee's intercollegiate coaching career ended dismally when the three members of his 1950-51 LIU team and five others from earlier teams were convicted of being involved with gamblers in the first extensive college basketball point-shaving scandal. LIU, reeling under the disgrace of the scandal, immediately dropped its entire sports program, leaving Bee without a team to coach for the first time in his adult life (Eisenberg 22). Initially, Bee argued for the reinstatement of the sports program at LIU, offering in a column written for the New York Journal-American two possibilities for adopting what he called a "small-time" program that was not commercially driven ("LIU Likely to Ease Sports Ban"). LIU, however, did not field a basketball team again until 1957, although the university's board of trustees, almost immediately after the banning decision, modified its stance to allow non-mainstream sports to continue, an indication that the board located the problems in the commercialism that enveloped the basketball program. Bee went on to coach the Baltimore Bullets of the fledgling National Basketball Association from 1952 to 1954, at which time the team folded for financial reasons (Smith). His only formal involvement with athletics after that was as director of athletics at the New York Military Academy in Cornwall-on-Hudson (1954-1967), as director of All-America Camp for boys at NYMA, and as cofounder and director of the Kutsher's Sports Camp for boys in the Catskills ("Bee at New York M.A."). While in the mid-Hudson Valley, he befriended a young basketball coach at West Point, Bob Knight, who admits that, as a boy, he would get so immersed in a Chip Hilton book that he would lose track of everything and everyone around him, including his mother (Knight, Hammel 43).
Bee began the Hilton books while he was still coaching, writing the first in the series for Grosset & Dunlap, Touchdown Pass, in 1948. Most of the books, however, were written following the point-shaving scandal, with the last, Hungry Hurler, published in 1966. Grasping at the perceived irony of the gap between Bee's fiction and his coaching reality, Sperber argues:
He wrote the Chip Hilton books with such passion and sincerity that he persuaded millions of readers to love and believe in his heroes and their traditional values. He also ran his basketball program so cynically that the New York judge who sentenced the LIU player-fixers excoriated Bee, wishing he could send him to prison along with the athletes because "all of the players entrusted to the care of LIU were openly exploited in behalf of Mr. Bee and the university. (321)
The "New York judge" Sperber quotes is Saul Streit, who took the occasion of the pre-sentencing hearing to read all forty-one pages of a statement he wrote in which he spread the blame, if not the legal guilt, for the scandal to coaches and the commercial nature of big-time intercollegiate basketball. Bee, Streit maintained, "engaged in soliciting players with offers of tuition, board and jobs that existed only in name ("Judge Blasts Coaches").
To a great extent, Streit took his text from the popular press. For months after the news of the first arrests of former Manhattan College and City College of New York players broke and hard on the heels of the arrest of the LIU trio, the newspapers were filled with reactionary columns and editorials decrying the low state of morals and the ignorance of college coaches and administrators while claiming a higher moral ground for reporters who covered college basketball. The morning after the arrest of the LIU players, for example, a Brooklyn Eagle editorial asserted, "Those pious noises we hear from all sides, now that the authorities have suddenly 'discovered' basketball fixes, leaves us cold." We, in the press, knew it all along, the editorial implies, but coaches and administrators refused to acknowledge the situation. "The treachery was perpetrated, through neglect and through ignorance, by persons much better known and much more responsible than a young basketball star" ("Professional Air in Big-Time College Basketball Led to Scandal"). The wording "persons much better known" suggests that Bee, one of the nation's most acclaimed coaches, perpetrated the treachery in question.
Understandably, given his deserved reputation as a competitor, Bee's reaction was to fight back, asserting that he saw "no exploitation" of athletes at LIU. Rather, Bee contends, "If Judge Streit thinks this is an exposure, he's 20 years behind the times. I always thought that an athlete should be given free tuition, books and whatever went with it. It affords him an opportunity to go through college and prepare for an education" ("Denial by Bee"). While Bee was right in calling Streit's opportunistic assessment of the state of college sports twenty years too late, the ex-coach came to a re-assessment of his own role in the scandal. Writing in The Saturday Evening Post of Feb. 2, 1952, Bee accepts at least some of the blame that Judge Streit heaped upon him. "I was a 'win-'em-all' coach who, by resorting to established practices, helped to create the emotional climate that led to the worst scandal in the history of sports" (26). Perhaps the most telling words of Bee's mea culpa are "by resorting to established practices." So established, in fact, were these unsavory coaching practices that they underscore his suggestion that Streit was twenty years behind the times in addressing a culture of college sports that had long since abandoned the rigid and seemingly righteous path of amateurism. Among New York City coaches alone, Nat Holman, the celebrated coach of City College, which, in 1950, had won both the National Invitation Tournament and the NCAA tournament championships, ran a program that sport historians cite as more cynically corrupt than the LIU program. In The Scandals of '51, Rosen devotes seven pages to what he calls CCNY's "unusual registration matters" (51-57). Even at a school that prided itself on being the poor man's Harvard, if a prospect could play basketball, inferior grades were no impediment to admission. One of Holman's former players told Rosen, "All Nat wanted was ballplayers. He didn't care how he got them" (61).
Just a day after the first three LIU players were arrested, the Brooklyn Eagle ran a story under the headline: BIG TIME COACH LINKED TO BET RING. "Who ... would dream for a minute," the story read, "that the coach of one of the most famous teams in the country--OUTSIDE of this city--is linked hand-and-glove with a national gambling ring" (Paul Gould). The story did not mention names but, even for readers mildly familiar with the college game and gambling, it would have been easy to put two-and-two together and come up with Adolph Rupp of Kentucky. In the same pre-sentencing statement in which he admonished Bee, Judge Streit tore into Rupp, who, despite his early denials, had star players convicted for fixing games.
I found undeniable evidence of covert subsidization of players, ruthless exploitation of athletes, cribbing on examinations, illegal recruiting, a reckless disregard for the players' physical welfare, matriculation of unqualified students, demoralization of the athletes by the coach, the alumni, and the townspeople. (Rosen, 205)
More than a few big-time coaches were "resorting to established practices." lust a year before the scandal broke, the NCANs Sanity Code, an attempt to regulate grants-in-aid based solely on athletic ability, was overturned by the college athletic members at the annual convention. The convention, almost symbolically, was held in New York City. (Byers 53-54)
In acknowledging his place in this culture and in confronting the culture's values that shaped him and that he helped perpetuate, Bee leaves little doubt about his feelings of guilt. "They say the loudest psalm singer is a reformed sinner," Bee writes (28), and The Saturday Evening Post article marks the first step in his reformation, one that reaches its culmination in the Hilton books written after 1951. The point-shaving scandal and its aftermath had a profound effect on Bee, and a sad event that occurred beyond the realm of the scandal would have contributed to making him more morose and introspective. Less than three weeks after the trial and berating by Judge Streit, Bee's nephew, Robert Morgan, whom he had employed to manage his cattle and dairy farm near Manorton, New York, in the mid-Hudson Valley was killed when he crashed his car into a pond near the farm ("Robert Morgan Crash Victim"). With everything bearing down on him, Bee became physically ill; he became depressed. He no doubt engaged in considerable self-examination. The man whom the sportswriters never tired of calling the "busy Bee" was doing little or nothing. So despondent was he that his wife said that, in order to snap him out of it, they should have a second child. Cynthia, now Cynthia Bee Farley, co-editor along with her husband, Randy, of the updated Hilton series published from 1998 to 2002, was born in 1952, just as Bee was publishing Dugout Jinx and Freshman Quarterback (Mike Farley, personal communication). Bee's next Hilton book, Fence Busters (1953) is dedicated to "Little Cynthia Anne Bee" and the romantic interest of one of Chip's teammates (for the most part, Chip steered clear of the opposite sex) was named Cynthia.
As he began to rebuild the fabric of his life, Bee recognized problems in American sports culture in two distinct places--influence from the outside and lost principles and misdirection from within intercollegiate athletics. He set out to publicize and deal with both in the only forum he had left to him--the Hilton books.
In the opening chapter of Dugout Jinx, a chapter titled "What Price Glory," Bee creates a discussion between an ethical Major League scout who covets Chip Hilton's pitching talent and a group of nameless fans at a summer league game. Stu Gardner admits that he would love to sign Chip, but he won't pressure him into signing a contract because Chip is more interested in an education at State University. A fan, apparently representing a typical American sports fan, responds, "[C]an't a boy sign up and go to college and keep his mouth shut and play college ball just the same?" Another chimes in, "I say a kid ought to get all he can get while he can get it" (4). The gambler's sales pitch to LIU players ran along similar lines: Everybody's doing it. Why shouldn't you make some money too (Rosen 49).
Referring to Chip, Gardner replies: "Some kids aren't like that ... Some kids have ambitions and dreams and hopes, and money is only incidental in their desire to accomplish their goal. Now you take that kid warming up. Why, he could have gotten, can still get so far as that's concerned, a bonus of ten or twenty thousand just to sign to play after he gets through college."
Chip, of course, wouldn't think of doing anything illegal, preferring instead to conform to the purest amateur ideal. He is tempted because the signing money would ease the financial burden on his widowed mother. But he never succumbs.
"'He must be nuts!' the fan in the back said loudly."
The scout reasserts his desire to get Chip under contract, but he emphasizes that Chip is more principled and education-driven than nuts. If the anonymous "fan" represents in Bee's mind the typical amoral money-grubbing person, Chip, clearly, is going against the grain of prevailing American culture. "Some kids aren't for sale," Gardner says. "They value their dreams and ambitions more than money" (4).
Compare the latter statement that Bee has Gardner speak in the novel with a comment Bee made in a column he wrote for the New York Journal-American about his and his clean players' reaction to the knowledge that their teammates shaved points. "Money was the motive, all right, but it is difficult to understand why the need for money was so pressing that the boys could dream of jeopardizing everything they held sacred" ("Mates Didn't Hear, See Anything To Make Them Suspect Fixers"). Or, contrasting the athletes who sold out to the gamblers to those who did not:
The unsullied regulars and the kids who kept on their toes while sitting on the bench have suffered silently and sorrowfully throughout this grim tragedy without a word of complaint or bitterness. It is for these kids that student rallies should be held--not for the boys who were for sale ("Bee Says Loyal Lads Suffered in Scandal").
The man bankrolling the sale of Bee's players was Sollazzo, of course, but he could never have arranged the sale without the help of his agent, Eddie Gard, captain of the 1949-50 Blackbirds who had used up his basketball eligibility but was still a student at LIU. "Eddie, the boy who had carried the ball for ex-convict Salvatore Sollazzo as once he had proudly dribbled it down the court for Long Island University," Paul Gould wrote in a Brooklyn Eagle story. "[D]apper, handsome, debonair Eddie, who had put the finger on his best friend--Sherman White" ("Eddie Made Sherman on Court, Then Tangled Him in Web of Fix"). If Bee were hurt by the fact that his star players cooperated in the shaving fix, he had to be doubly hurt by the fact that Gard orchestrated everything. Gard was an insider who had succumbed to the temptation of an outside influence, and as an insider, he had considerable influence over his former teammates.
If Dugout Jinx can be read as a morality text that parallels the point-shaving scandal, as I contend, Bee had to include a Gard-like character and an equivalent of Sollazzo with Chip taking the role of the "unsullied regulars." Gabby Breen, a professional baseball scout who is "a faker, a fellow who cared nothing about young kids except to exploit them to the fullest extent" (10), is given the Sollazzo role, even to the point that Bee has him use a telephone booth to make his arrangements. "Gabby was a careful person with respect to his varied enterprises, and he left nothing to chance. That was the reason for the telephone-booth call instead of the comfort of a call from his own room" (30). Well before the scandal broke in the winter of '51, LIU players were wary of the phone booths in Madison Square Garden. Uplinger remembers: "Everyone knew that gambling was going on. In fact, we were told that the public telephones in Madison Square Garden were bugged by the police department" (personal communication). In reality, everyone knew that even the public phones were to be avoided while "doing business."
Chapter 6, "One of the Gang," a title that can be read a number of ways, begins with Breen, a "flashily dressed man," collecting a huge bankroll that he intends to use to impress Chip into signing a professional baseball contract while encouraging him to feign his amateur status during his college years. To pull off the deal, Breen needs the help of second baseman Corky Squill, the Eddie Gard of the drama. "'If I can sign Hilton, that Cohen kid will follow suit,' Breen thinks. 'I'd better use Corky to set Hilton up for a meeting'" (58). The reference is to Biggie Cohen, a slugging first baseman and one of Chip's Valley Falls friends. This is exactly how things played out with the LIU team: Gard influenced Adolph Bigos and Sherman White, and White, in turn, influenced LeRoy Smith. Different sport, parallel action in what amounts to Bee's thinly veiled fictional version of the mechanics of the scandal.
The parallel between Breen and Sollazzo breaks down a bit as the plot unravels because, unlike Sollazzo, Breen is interested in both a quick payday and taking over as manager of the Bears, the minor league team with which Chip is spending the summer as an observer and batting practice pitcher. However, the parallel between fiction and reality comes closer when, in the hopes of making incumbent manager Eddie Duer look incompetent, Breen convinces Squill to dump some games. "I didn't mean you had to do anything wrong. You play your best all the time. Nothin' wrong so long as you can do that, is there" (69). Sollazzo's pitch to Sherman White, according to Rosen, was: "You don't have to lose. All you have to do is shave the points. It's easy enough and I'll give you a thousand dollars a game. In cash. Everybody's doing it" (49). In other words, why not become "One of the Gang?"
Unlike the sad outcome of the point-shaving scandal, a situation over which Bee maintained that he had no control, as the author of Dugout Jinx, he has complete control. And in the sports world Bee imagines, the bad guys don't win. Gardner tells Chip: "Some people will tell a kid anything to get him signed to a contract. What's more, they'll offer you cold cash out of all proportion to what you think you're worth. In a case like yours, Chip, unscrupulous men often try to tell you that it's all right to sign a contract and accept a cash bonus and then go on to college and play ball. A fellow would know that wasn't right if he took time to think it over, but operators like that don't give you a chance" (65-66).
The "operators" who went to work on Sherman White were Gard and Sollazzo, and Gard, a trusted ex-teammate, was a particularly effective "operator." "Don't be a sucker," Gard told White. "Everybody else is making money out of this thing. Why not you?" White wrote that Gard went "on and on," making his case for cooperation. "I listened and it sounded good. In the end, I agreed to go with him to see the boss, the man he called 'the big cheese'." White met Sollazzo "in his fancy apartment on Central Park West, where all the rich people live ... I must have been crazy, but I let him sell me a bill of goods" (76). Of course, as Bee's fan in Dugout Jinx said about Chip's not taking an agent's money, "He must be nuts!" Upon reflection, White felt that real craziness lay in going for the quick cash.
In a chapter titled "Short Cut to Fame," Breen/Sollazzo offers Chip five-thousand dollars if he'll sign a contract but, although tempted, Chip tells the agent that he is planning to attend college. "'Fine,' Breen said briskly. 'Doesn't mean a thing! You can go to college if you wish and you get the money just the same. Furthermore, you'll get a hundred dollars a month all the time you're in college. That would pay a lot of those college expenses and there's nothing wrong with it'" (79). Breen's ultimate bit of persuasion consists of his melodramatically dropping five-thousand dollars in bills in front of Chip and his mother. Needless to say--and unlike Bee's guilty Blackbird players--Chip refuses to cooperate. Why? "[T]he words Coach Rockwell had drummed into his mind come rushing back. 'An education is an asset which a fellow can never dissipate; no one can take it away from him! Money and friends may vanish, but an education sticks forever'" (81).
In his confessional piece in The Saturday Evening Post, Bee acknowledges that, while "resorting to established practices," he lost sight of the preeminent place an education should have in the lives of college athletes. "I--every coach under the pressure of big-time sports--was so absorbed in the victory grail that I lost sight of the educational purpose of athletics" (26). When in his first Hilton book following the point-shaving scandal he has Chip reject the scout's money, Bee adjusts his own thinking, reclaiming his role as an educator, although this time his students are his juvenile readers.
Freshman Quarterback immediately follows Dugout Jinx in the Hilton series and, in this book Bee turns his attention to reforming the problems in intercollegiate athletics that he feels helped create a culture of easy corruptibility. Ironically, many of the reforms he advocates in the novel mirror the charges that Judge Streit leveled in his pre-sentencing statement. Namely, Bee attacks athletic scholarships based solely on athletic talent, the role of booster organizations that function powerfully outside or with the tacit approval of a university's athletic administration, rampant commercialism, and devaluing the academic aspects of college. The reforms he ultimately proposes in the book are more sweeping and more radical than any recommended by the Carnegie Commission in the late-twenties or by the current Knight Commission. However, and probably not surprisingly, one group in the collegiate athletic culture that escapes blame in Bee's mind is the coaches. Bee's coaches at State University are too absorbed in their day-to-day coaching duties to notice glaring problems in the system, and even if they do recognize the problems, they are powerless to do anything about them because the boosters hold the financial trump card. Is Bee completely honest in this assessment? Probably not. Hank Rockwell, his exemplar coach in fiction, is in the dark about the corruption at State, which is roughly the same argument Bee made about himself and his fellow coaches in relation to the events of the point-shaving scandal. "There have been blasts at Holman, Cann and Norton and the rest of us for not knowing what was going on and reporting it to the authorities. None of us knew it, damn it" (Ben Gould, "They Said 'No'"). In this respect, at any rate, Bee remains consistent.
Otherwise, his post-scandal books mark notable changes in attitude. Freshman Quarterback, in particular, depicts a change in values on Chip's part, especially when contrasted with the earlier novels set in his high school days. In the first book in the series, Touchdown Pass (1948), Chip is in his junior football season at Valley Falls High, and he most definitely has his sights set on winning an athletic scholarship to State University. "Hope State asks Speed and me up again for their spring festival," he tells assistant coach Chet Stewart, who replies:
"Look Chipper," he said, "every big college in the country will be inviting you to look over their campus before you graduate from Valley Falls High. Most of the time they throw away the mold when they make an All-American--but this time they didn't--Your dad was great, Chipper, but you're going to make him look like a substitute--and he'd love it." (114)
Chip will get recruited by the coach of "every big college in the country." Stewart makes that point clear, and Chip is certainly interested in the athletic scholarship that will result from the recruiting process. His father, the All-American to which the coach refers is dead, and Chip's mother works as a telephone operator who is struggling to save money for his college education. In the early works, Chip needs and wants an athletic scholarship, and Bee makes it clear that it is only logical that an athlete with Chip's talent deserves and should get the free ride.
Touchdown Pass, though, ends with Chip's sustaining a broken ankle in an automobile accident, an injury that keeps him on the sideline as the team's manager for basketball season and an injury that raises doubts about his athletic future. In Bee's second Hilton novel, Championship Ball (1948), Chip bemoans his athletic prospects to his friend Speed Morris. "All my life I've been dreaming of a scholarship at State. Gosh, that would have taken care of a lot of my expenses ... They don't give scholarships to managers, you know ... You think I'm going up to State and let my mother slave for four years" (15). Coach Rockwell mentions that he previously wrote to his coaching contact at State University to recommend Chip for a scholarship (23). And a Valley Falls sportswriter, watching Chip hobble around the basketball court while serving as manager, observes disconsolately, "He would have been a sure bet for a scholarship anywhere" (68). In Strike Three (1949), State University's baseball coach knows Chip and his Valley Falls teammates and, "he hoped to see a lot more of them someday--at State" (52). Bee leaves no doubt--the athletic scholarship is something that Chip wants, a valued part of the American sports culture from the athlete's perspective, as well as the perspectives of the coaches and sportswriters.
Of course, Chip recovers from his broken ankle and athletic stardom ensues in his remaining seasons at Valley Falls. He gains all-state and All-American honors in football and basketball. But when he reports to freshman football practice at State University in the post-scandal work Freshman Quarterback, he does so without an athletic scholarship. For a young reader--or a reader of any age, for that matter--Chip's non-scholarship status has to be puzzling. During his high school days, he was recruited by State; the first few books in the series make it clear that he wants and needs the athletic scholarship. In the thematic flow of the Hilton series, Chip's not getting an athletic scholarship makes little or no sense. However, in the context of the basketball point-shaving scandal, its aftermath, and Bee's reconsidering his role in big-time American sports culture, the scholarship turnabout makes perfect sense. The author is, in effect, a new person; consequently, so is his protagonist.
Chip's walk-on status notwithstanding, State is very much in the business of dispensing athletic scholarships, but the scholarships are controlled by the Booster Association, a group headed by wealthy businessman, B. C. Anderson. Each member of the Booster Association, Anderson included, sponsors an individual player, a player who receives the full scholarship treatment. Chip's antagonist and rival for the starting quarterback position on the freshman team, Fred "Fireball" Finley, is the beneficiary of a Booster Association scholarship and everything that goes with it, including a room in an athletic dorm and a "yellow convertible" given to him by his sponsor, Anderson. "Sure, I took the best offer," Finley tells a teammate who quizzes him about all the benefits of his scholarship. "Why not? How come you're a thousand miles from home" (21). When another booster teammate teases him about his convertible, saying that students aren't allowed to have cars on campus, Finley replies, "You said students," an indication that he and the other scholarship athletes feel both separate from the regular student body and entitled to special treatment by virtue of their athletic talent (60).
Finley, the scholarship players, the boosters, and the system that envelops them all and that they maintain are Bee's targets, literary antagonists who must either be converted or dispensed with by the end of the book. In a style consistent with his other formulaic fiction, Bee converts even the foulest of the antagonists, Finley and Anderson. The conversion process begins when Anderson, who, after watching Chip come off the bench and star in early-season games, acknowledges that Chip is better than the scholarship players and has the freshman coach offer him a booster-funded scholarship and residence in the athletic dorm. "'Why, I couldn't do that, Mr. Nelson,' Chip protested. 'Why, I just couldn't ... I have a good job and I'm getting along fine the way I am. I don't need any help. In fact, I'd rather work my way'" (101). Self-reliant Chip would rather work his way through college even while playing football. He would rather be a regular student than an entitled athlete. An about-face from his high school days when he yearned for an athletic scholarship? Definitely. Chip's spurning the scholarship results from his creator's experiences with and thinking about the tragedy of the point-shaving scandal.
Bee's literary attempt to reform the evils of intercollegiate sport culminates in a further, more sweeping about-face, one undergone by Anderson, who engages in some self-reflection of his own. Anderson shocks a climactic meeting of the board of the Booster Association by referring to the scholarship athletes they sponsor as "hired hands," adding, "[W]e disassociated them from normal student life just as we disassociated our coaches from the regular administration of the university." The Booster Association and its athletic scholarship program, Anderson concludes, should be discontinued and, in its place, he proposes a different way "to help State become one of the great educational institutions of this country" (200). Anderson offers the president of State University "a gift of a million dollars toward the establishment of a grant-in-aid fund for worthy and needy boys who desired a college education" (201). Bee, of course, was writing in 1952; girls need not apply for these grants-in-aid. Nor, for that matter, should star athletes. As part of Anderson's new vision for State, all scholarships based solely on athletic ability are eliminated (201).
In the pre-scandal Hilton novels, scholarships, a coveted element in the fabric of big-time sports culture, are depicted as something worth striving for. In the book in which Chip first reports to college, athletic scholarships are part of the crassly commercial, non-academic aspect of intercollegiate sports that must be reformed. The values depicted in Freshman Quarterback run through the remainder of the Hilton books. In Triple Threat Trouble (1960), for example, an incredulous fan asks Chip, "'You mean they didn't give you a scholarship? The way you can play football?' Chip replies, 'They offered me a scholarship, but I prefer to work'" (123). Chip would prefer not to be a "hired hand"; he would prefer the freedom to be a real student.
While in fiction, Bee opposes scholarships based solely on athletic ability, in reality, he adopts a somewhat different attitude. In his piece in The Saturday Evening Post, he notes that one of Judge Streit's charges against him is giving scholarships to athletes. Bee writes: "I don't believe that straight scholarships--free tuition, books and fees--are an abuse. Giving a poor boy, who otherwise could not get an education, a chance to improve himself by capitalizing on his athletic ability is the one defensible aspect of high pressure sport" (27). In fact, Bee cites his own experience of getting an athletic scholarship to Waynesburg College as a life-changing opportunity. Writing of himself in the third person, Bee says, "Then something happened which changed his whole life. He got an athletic scholarship" ("Clair Bee Says").
However, the key distinction Bee draws is generational. Too many of the post-war generation of athletes he has coached or known in some way are like the unconverted Fireball Finley in the sense that they feel entitled. To what? To everything they can milk out of compliant college sports administrators and coaches. "Kids now seem more concerned about, 'What's in it in dollars and cents?' How about a car? Such and such a college offered my father a job'" ("Clair Bee Says"). In his post-scandal fiction, Bee depicts Chip as the opposite of this type of opportunistic athlete.
Bee's attempt in his fiction to reform established coaching practices begs the question: Is he sincere, or do the post-scandal books represent an even deeper level of hypocrisy? By way of answering that question, I go back to the "trust the tale" theory of literary criticism. More to the point may be the words of Chris Crutcher, a contemporary writer of novels for young adults who grew up reading the Chip Hilton series. Ironically, in commenting about what he considers Chip's inadequacy as a sports hero, according to Crowe, Crutcher makes an observation that could apply to Clair Bee.
But as much as Chip Hilton represents something to aspire to, he also represents what we can never be. A truth about humans is that we are a trial and error species, we learn from our mistakes--not just our physical mistakes, but our emotional and spiritual mistakes as well. I think true heroes aren't defined so much by what they do "right" as by how they respond to what they do "wrong." (40)
Writing the Hilton novels, especially the post-scandal stories, amounted to Clair Bee's response to what he did wrong and what he saw in the sports world that was wrong. And in that effort, he was sincere.
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Crutcher, Chris. Quoted in Chris Crowe. More Than a Game: Sports Literature for Young Adults. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2004.
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|Publication:||Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2010|
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