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  • The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph by Scott Ellsworth
  • Evelyn J. Gordon
Ellsworth, Scott. The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph. New York: Little Brown and Company, 2015. Pp. 375. Photos, notes, index, author bibliography. $27.00, hb. $12.46, pb.

The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph explores the history of segregation in the South, World War II, the emergence of the game of basketball, and how one “secret game” impacted the mindset to change the Jim Crow ideologies in North Carolina. Scott Ellsworth’s descriptive and intricate story telling will keep the reader involved in the events as they unfold. Ellsworth is authentic in the language used during this period and cautions the reader, and this decision allows the story to be represented in its purest form and held for purity. The story is crafted together so that the reader can journey through the events and experiences that had an impact on changing the perception of segregation as well as the evolution of the game of basketball.

The story begins by bringing life to the characters that would lead up to the “secret game.” John McLendon, the coach at North Carolina College for Negroes, has a vision to create one of the finest Negro colleges in the country. Dr. Naismith’s childhood, educational path, the doors that would open to allow him to invent the game of basketball, and his witnessing of the induction of basketball into the Olympics in Berlin are scripted vividly. The book details the beginnings of Duke University, depicting the darkness of segregation and the events that lead up to the “secret game,” as well as the changes that would occur due to WWII and the Duke medical school program’s response to assist with the war effort.

For the male students to cope with the stress, most joined the medical school’s all-white military basketball team. The team even outshone the Blue Devils, beating them in a scrimmage. Due to an influx of students from the North, southern ideologies changed. Intermingling between the students at Duke and North Carolina College for Negroes was occurring. The inner workings of the “secret game” were afoot.

Occurring on a Sunday in a locked gymnasium, the secret game was not so secret. A nineteen-year-old reporter, Lin Holloway, also heard the word. Perched on the window ledge outside the gym where the game took place, he wrote about what he witnessed but never published the story due to fear of the backlash.

Ellsworth carefully depicts these elements in a way that takes one back to an era that is difficult to discuss. The Secret Game will encourage discussion about difficult topics such as [End Page 106] segregation, Jim Crow ideology, and the bravery of those individuals that would challenge the mindset of the period with dignity and integrity. The Secret Game is a great history lesson without feeling like one, an enjoyable and easy read. I would recommend this book to any basketball or history enthusiast as well.

Evelyn J. Gordon
University of Southern Mississippi


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pp. 106-107
Launched on MUSE
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