CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2016
Gang Tackle. (Orca Sports).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2016.
162 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1225-3 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1226-0 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1227-7 (epub).
Grades 6-12 / Ages 11-17.
Review by Cate Carlyle.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
Jamal and his teammates knew they wouldn’t be getting to play real football if it wasn’t for Mr. Fort.
“This is a great day for the Southside Saints and great day for Fort Sports,” Mr. Fort said, holding up a new jersey. He flashed the Fort logo in front of the cameras. “First of all we can get rid of all that president and Mr. Fort stuff. From now on, just call me Coach.”
Jamal liked that. Any coach should just be called Coach. But he did wonder why he only showed off the logo for Fort Sports and not the Saints.
“At Fort Sports we want to make sure every high school can have a football team. Even a high school like this one.” Coach Fort smiled for the cameras again. “That’s why Fort Sports has donated twenty thousand dollars to get the Southside team going again.” The crowd hooted and clapped again. “Now if there are any questions, I’d be happy to answer them.”
Jamal could see some of the reporters had questions, but so did he. A big one. He was nervous in front of all the TV cameras, but he asked anyway. “What do you mean a school like this one?”
Coach Fort looked uneasy. He dabbed the sweat from his forehead. “You know for kids and a school that are... disadvantaged.”
Gang Tackle is Eric Howling’s contribution to the “Orca Sports” series which produces exciting and easy to read sports stories for readers aged 10 and older. The story unfolds at Southside High School, a secondary school struggling with budget cuts in a less desirable part of the Greater Toronto Area. The Southside Saints football program has been cut, players’ uniforms are threadbare, the field is in shambles and the school’s principal has no hope. The owner of the local Fort Sports store steps in with a twenty thousand dollar donation for the football team with the stipulation that the owner, Mr. Fort, will be the coach. The team quickly realizes that Mr. Fort not only has his own agenda, that of promoting his business, but that he is also a racist bully. A few of the players finally reach their limit and proactively take matters into their own hands. They use their new uniforms to stage a demonstration on the field, revealing the coach for what he really is on local television, and then they work together to create a sports app to raise funds and take back control of their team.
Told in the third person, Gang Tackle focuses on a few of the star senior players at Southside High School and their struggles to balance academics with their love of football, their work commitments to support their families, and the darker temptations of city life. Jamal stumbles and assists a gang in the robbery of the big box store where his mother works, an act that lands him in jail, and Billy Chang is removed from the team when he misses practice to help out at his parents’ store. The new coach labels the students as disadvantaged and promotes the usual stereotypes. He draws attention to skin colour, replaces racially diverse players with white players, and bullies those who make mistakes or miss practice for any reason. When the team succeeds, Coach Fort takes all of the credit and basks in the limelight.
Although Gang Tackle is replete with football plays and sports terminology, the pace moves quickly, even for those not familiar with the sport. The dialogue is in tune with Canadian high school seniors, and Howling accurately portrays the daily life of a challenged teenager struggling on the outskirts of a big city. Coach Fort’s discriminatory comments are important, not gratuitous, and provide for great points of discussion either at home or in the classroom. Howling tackles the sensitive topic of racism head on and leaves readers enlightened and informed. The inclusion of technology in this sports centered story, such as when Jamal creates an app that saves the team and lands him a university scholarship, makes for a positive and inspirational ending that breaks down typical stereotypes. Including STEM topics within a sports story provides educators with many cross curricular teaching opportunities. Regardless of all of the important educational features, Gang Tackle remains a good read.
Cate Carlyle is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax NS. Cate is not a sports enthusiast but does appreciate a good tailgate party.
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