- The Underdogs
Have you read the one about the short powerhouse kid with his eye on a championship football season? How about the coach dad who could have been a football great if not for his injury? Maybe the one about the have-not team taking on the well-funded kids across town? The kid whose father shouts criticism from the sidelines? The joking sidekick who comes through with a big play? Lupica, prince of the feel-good sports story, manages to bundle a string of shopworn tropes into a genuine kid-pleaser by tapping into a situation that, sadly, all too many readers will recognize: sports cutbacks in a dying post-industrial town. Seventh-grader Will Tyler, facing the termination of the twelve-year-olds’ football league, writes to New Balance for corporate sponsorship, and by golly, CEO Robert DeMartini comes through. Now all Will needs is to muster ten other players and a coach. Dad drags his tired body and bum knee to practice in support of his son, Will talks his teammates into accepting a girl onto the team as a kicker, and talented but shy Toby finally commits to signing up as well, despite the grief he knows he’ll catch from his big-mouthed father. With twelve players altogether, they chug their way toward a shot at the playoff until an injury and a sudden move reduce the gang to ten, just in time to face their arch-rival. No need to tell the ending; the title says it all. More surprising is how Lupica incorporates the New Balance company and its actual CEO into the tale—convincing detail or shameless product placement? Either way, readers will groan, worry, hope, and cheer in all the right places as the scrappy goats chew up the trash-talkin’ punks, and once again all’s right in middle-grades sports fiction.