The best sports books that are more than just sports books

Matthew A. Werner Author Of Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s
By Matthew A. Werner

Who am I?

I’m a storyteller and jack of all trades who grew up on a family farm in Indiana. I can operate a combine, analyze data, or edit a book. Writing about sports can create great stories, but the true beauty lies in the people and circumstances, not the stats and game highlights. Most of my works are nonfiction—personal interest, sports, history, and sports history. I enjoy unearthing untold stories, especially when they involve equal rights, underdogs, hidden history, and non-famous people. Everyone has a story to tell.


I wrote...

Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

By Matthew A. Werner,

Book cover of Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

What is my book about?

This is the incredible true story of the 1950 Indiana high school basketball season. The circumstances of that one season captured the essence of Hoosier hysteria in all its glory. But this is more than a sports story. The students were born into the Great Depression and grew up in the shadow of World War II. The coaches were veterans of war. A fire destroyed a school, but not its spirit. A coal strike threatened everything. There were hard times and happy memories. In the end, everyone shared one common love: basketball.

The books I picked & why

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One Small Town, One Crazy Coach: The Ireland Spuds and the 1963 Indiana High School Basketball Season

By Mike Roos,

Book cover of One Small Town, One Crazy Coach: The Ireland Spuds and the 1963 Indiana High School Basketball Season

Why this book?

Mike Roos did a great job telling this true story of Indiana high school basketball. Roos’s father was the high school principal that hired that crazy coach referenced in the title. He used extensive interviews and years of rewrites to recreate meetings, locker room pep talks, and dialogue. Not only is this a good story, but Roos showed readers what is wonderful about creative nonfiction. It reads like a novel, but it’s genuine nonfiction.

One Small Town, One Crazy Coach: The Ireland Spuds and the 1963 Indiana High School Basketball Season

By Mike Roos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Small Town, One Crazy Coach as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the summer of 1962, the peripatetic and irrepressible Pete Gill was hired on a whim to coach basketball at tiny Ireland High School. There he would accomplish, against enormous odds, one of the great small-town feats in Indiana basketball history. With no starters taller than 5'10", few wins were predicted for the Spuds. Yet, after inflicting brutal preseason conditioning, employing a variety of unconventional motivational tactics, and overcoming fierce opposition, Gill molded the Spuds into a winning team that brought home the town's first and only sectional and regional titles. Relying on narrative strategies of creative nonfiction rather than…


One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season

By Chris Ballard,

Book cover of One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season

Why this book?

A friend recommended One Last Shot at Forever while I was researching my first book and I’m glad he did. Ballard demonstrated that great sports writing rarely is about the sport itself. He uncovered clash of cultures in a changing world, intraschool politics, the power of personal relationships, a fun baseball story, and more. He hooked me in the prelude with the head baseball coach acknowledging that “coaching” was the team’s weakness that season—I needed to know more about that guy. Then Ballard kept my attention through the final chapter. It was a fun read.

One Shot at Forever: A Small Town, an Unlikely Coach, and a Magical Baseball Season

By Chris Ballard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Shot at Forever as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"One Shot at Forever is powerful, inspirational. . . This isn't merely a book about baseball. It's a book about heart." -- Jeff Pearlman, New York Times bestselling author of Boys Will Be Boys and The Bad Guys Won In 1971, a small-town high school baseball team from rural Illinois, playing with hand-me-down uniforms and peace signs on their hats, defied convention and the odds. Led by an English teacher with no coaching experience, the Macon Ironmen emerged from a field of 370 teams to represent the smallest school in Illinois history to make the state final, a distinction that…

Summer of '49

By David Halberstam,

Book cover of Summer of '49

Why this book?

I’m no fan of the Yankees or Red Sox, but Halberstam’s story about the 1949 American League pennant race piqued my interest. His chapter transitions made me want to start the next one to see what comes next. He never bored with play-by-play details, mind-numbing stats, or months and days of the week. The people and their personal stories propel Halberstam’s narration of the goings-on around the teams and baseball season. It all flowed so smoothly. Getting to know the “characters” made the story hit home for me. 

Summer of '49

By David Halberstam,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Summer of '49 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Go Up for Glory

By Bill Russell, William Mcsweeny,

Book cover of Go Up for Glory

Why this book?

An 11-time NBA champion, Bill Russell revealed the insecurity of being a super tall, lanky, Black man that can’t avoid notice. He wrote honestly about racism and civil rights in America. He mentioned great Celtics players and described the NBA’s early days. His description of the physical demands of traveling and playing so many games made me realize his job was hard work. Read it just to find the passage where Russel describes—better than any writer ever has—that rare, amazing feeling you get when teammates are in sync, everything is clicking, and a team plays at its peak.

Go Up for Glory

By Bill Russell, William Mcsweeny,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Go Up for Glory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Full Court: A literary anthology of basketball

By Dennis Trudell (editor),

Book cover of Full Court: A literary anthology of basketball

Why this book?

In the 1990s, I didn’t know of any collection of basketball stories and few great basketball books had been written. Dennis Trudell saw the same thing and fixed it with this literary anthology. I appreciated the broad array of stories in the collection. It includes John Updike’s poem, “The Ex-basketball Player.” In “Posting Up,” Stephanie Grant captured the beauty of basketball in a story about a teenage girl learning to play the post. Most stories tackle hard topics beyond the basketball court. If you love basketball and literature, you must find this hard-to-find book. 

Full Court: A literary anthology of basketball

By Dennis Trudell (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Full Court as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in college basketball, Illinois, and Indiana?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about college basketball, Illinois, and Indiana.

College Basketball Explore 13 books about college basketball
Illinois Explore 66 books about Illinois
Indiana Explore 20 books about Indiana

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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