When Lynn Sweet arrived in Macon, Illinois, in 1966, his effect on the small midwestern town was not hard to predict. An idealist, beatnik, dreamer, and intellectual in a town still living in the Eisenhower era, Sweet made waves wherever he went, including the classroom where he taught high school English.
What no one could have guessed, though, was that, by 1971, Sweet would become the school's baseball coach and take a group of overmatched boys from Macon all the way to the state finals. Playing with hand-me-down uniforms and peace signs on their hats, sporting long hair and playing Jesus Christ Superstar during warm-ups, the Macon Ironmen defied convention and the odds. At a time when there were no class divisions in high school baseball, Macon emerged from a field of 370 teams to become the smallest school in Illinois history to make the final, a distinction that stands to this day. Think Hoosiers, only with bats and gloves.
In ONE SHOT AT FOREVER, Sports Illustrated writer Chris Ballard will take readers on this entertaining, evocative journey from Sweet's appearance in Macon to the Ironmen's improbable run to the state final. But Ironmen doesn't stop with the last out of the big game. In a move reminiscent of Jason Miller's Pulitzer Prize winning play, That Championship Season, Ballard returns to the 1971 Ironmen and their coach to explore their memories of this magical season and the effect it has had on their lives' trajectories. Drawing upon local research, as well as extensive interviews with the players and Lynn Sweet himself, Ballard offers a compelling look at the disparate ways the characters remember their brief taste of glory.
Some players look back nostalgically at a lightning in a bottle they captured that year, having moved on to lives and families far removed from their Illinois hometown. Others remember the season as their glory days, the point after which everything went downhill. Still others endlessly relive the big game, unable to ever fully leave it in the past. All of the players, however, believe that Lynn Sweet profoundly changed their lives. In the end, this book will be portrait of the sacred bond between a coach, a team, and a town and a testament to the power of high school sports to shape these lives of those who play them.
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