By: Bill Elder
Reviewed by: Paul Finebaum
NewSouth Books, 2007
When the galleys to All Guts and No Glory arrived in the mail in early spring, I shook my head, saying, “I know it sounds interesting, but I’ve been there and done that.” How many more books can I handle set with the civil rights movement as the backdrop? A month later, with the tome gathering dust, I had inched no closer to cracking it open. Finally, knowing the deadline was knocking on my door, I took a shot and honestly couldn’t put the book down. From the first page until the last, I was riveted by the words, dancing off the page, singing and humming and resonating in a way I could not have imagined.
The book by Bill Elder, who has spent more than a quarter of a century as an athletic director and coach, has an eagle-eye approach to the early days of desegregation in Alabama. Brilliantly reported and exquisitely written, All Guts and No Glory should be must reading for those interested in politics and religion as well as the obvious sports audience.
Unlike many historical accounts of this dark era in American history, to say nothing of that of Alabama, Elder takes you there on the front line, or in his case the front row, as he painstakingly details his own experiences as the basketball coach at Northeast Alabama Junior College. He recruited the first black player to the school, and he talks about the cause and effect of his gut-wrenching and decisive decision.
Interestingly, it wasn’t easy at first, not only because of the ground-breaking move but because black players didn’t want to play there. Much of this had to with the setting on Sand Mountain, just a stone’s throw from Scottsboro, where one of the seminal moments in modern American history occurred—the famous case of the Scottsboro Boys.
Elder does a skillful job of weaving his profound faith into the ideas and ideals written in the book without being preachy. And in the end, the reader is treated to a wonderful personal journey through one of Alabama’s darkest times.
It’s also significant that Bill Elder’s journey was not at a major school like Alabama or Auburn where the eyes of the nation were focused. His odyssey took place in the backwoods, which makes this book that much more enjoyable and heartfelt.
Finally, after reading the book, I had only one minor regret. I wish I had read it sooner.
Paul Finebaum is a sports columnist for the Mobile Press-Register and hosts a daily syndicated talk-radio show from Birmingham.