One Shot at Forever: a small town, an unlikely coach and a magical baseball season by Chris Ballard
When Lynn Sweet drove into Macon, IL, a town of 1200, in 1965, to interview for a job teaching English at the local high school of 250, he told himself he didn’t have to live in Macon forever. He could always look for a new job and move if he wasn’t happy in Macon. Hired by a principal who valued a diverse staff and was eager to have a young male English teacher, Sweet’s unorthodox methods, such as seating students at large tables instead of individual desks and giving a wide range of choices for independent reading, drew negative parent and community attention while popular with students. Four years later, when the school needed a new baseball coach, parents and boys who wanted to play approached Sweet without realizing he had been good enough in college to play on semipro teams. Persuaded to take the job, Sweet approached coaching as he did teaching. He rejected the stereotypical coaching pattern of yelling and military style drills to making practice optional and giving the players positive guidance. To the surprise of other teams Macon’s Ironmen started winning, beating even larger schools and those with long traditions of winning. Sweet himself attracted attention, having grown his hair longer and a Fu Manchu mustache. Coaches and fans from conservative backgrounds were scandalized their teams were being beaten by a team of boys with peace signs on their hats coached by a “hippie.”
During the two years he researched this story, first for a Sports Illustrated story then this expanded book, author Chris Ballard chased down every lead, from interviewing Lynn Sweet and his family, all the surviving team members and their families, community members, players from opposing teams, reporters who covered the story and school and town records. In fact, the notes at the end of the book, organized by chapter, add so much depth to the story that I kept referring back to each chapter while reading them. The notes add flavor, including details not in the narrative itself. Anyone who doesn’t usually read nonfiction for independent reading would be drawn in both by the engrossing story itself and Ballard’s gifted writing in telling it.
Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson