Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Opportunities Instead of Opponents: Exploring Competition in New Middle-Grade Series, a guest post by Mary Amato

We give our kids lots of opportunities to compete, whether it’s in sports, academics, or the arts. We teach them to train physically, to grind through the drills, to build up their strength, speed, stamina—whatever the performance requires. But how do we teach our kids to develop a healthy mindset toward competition?

One way is to make sure and share real-life stories of goodwill between athletes. Take this year when Qatar’s Mutaz Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi decided, after tying, to share an Olympic gold in the men’s high jump at the Tokyo Games rather than settle the score with a jump off. Each agreed that their opponent deserved the medal as much as they did. “This is beyond sport,” Barshim said, according to Time Magazine. “This is the message we deliver to the young generation.”

Life Lessons From Sport and Beyond, the inspiring and information-packed podcast from British sports commentator Simon Mundie is full of such stories from world-class athletes, coaches, and psychologists and can be a great teaching tool. 

But what else can we—the teachers, coaches, media specialists, and parents—do on the ground, at school, or at home to help our children and teens when they come face to face with the negative aspects of competition? How do we help them deal with specific emotions that can arise during competitive experiences, emotions such as toxic jealousy, defeatism, or self-loathing? 

As a children’s and YA book writer, I am exploring this in my new middle-grade fiction series called Star Striker. In the first book, Game On!, the main character Albert is overwhelmed with jealousy during his first middle-school band concert when his rival on the soccer field, Trey Patterson, steps out to perform a special saxophone duet with Albert’s crush, a classmate named Jessica.

As Mr. Chaimbers introduced the name of the song, Albert continued to drill his glare at Trey’s back, his jealousy a hot magma bubbling throughout his body. A series of fantasies fired through his mind: Trey tripping, Trey blowing a hideously wrong note, the audience laughing, the audience booing, the audience throwing rotten tomatoes, Trey having a panic attack, a legion of vampire bats swooping down from the rafters and chasing him off the stage . . . Fail, Trey, Fail.

Yes, Albert’s jealousy is extreme, but some of level jealousy is a common response to competition—and it never feels good. It’s hard to get into the positive flow state that makes for a great performance or to enjoy performing when your mind is churning with negativity. And it’s hard to sustain a life-long love for your art or your sport if your experience is mired in emotional toxicity. 

In Game On!, Albert learns a three-step meditation from his extraordinary new coach Kayko, and this helps him on the field, at home, and on stage. Here is the nutshell:

  1. Accept without judgement what you are feeling.
  2. Send kind thoughts to yourself.
  3. Send kind thoughts to the person with whom you are in conflict (an opponent, a rival, etc.)

My boiled-down, three-step recipe is based on a combination of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its offshoot Acceptance and Commitment Therapy as well as metta meditation, which is a practice involving sending kind thoughts both inward and outward. 

So what might this process look like in action? As Albert’s rival and his crush begin their duet and jealousy rears its ugly head, Albert begins his three-step silent meditation. He first acknowledges his negative impulses and responds first by forgiving himself for having these thoughts. Then he focuses his attention on sending kind thoughts to his rival Trey instead of silently chanting for Trey to fail. May you play well, Trey, Albert chants. May you feel joy. And here’s what happens:

Something unexpected rose up from way underneath the hot magma: a tiny bubble of delight. He was shocked, but he actually felt better wishing Trey well than wishing disaster on him. He felt large instead of small. May you play well, Trey. May you feel joy . . .

It felt good. He imagined energy spilling out of him and traveling through invisible threads . . . to Trey and to Jessica. He imagined that they could feel his energy flowing into them and that it radiated out through their fingertips into their saxophones and out into the auditorium. He imagined it traveling to the ears of his nana, his mother, his sister. A smile spread across Albert’s face. This was good. This was right.

This meditation not only helps Albert to feel better, it helps him to perform better when it’s his turn to play, and it helps him to enjoy the entire experience. 

This three-step meditation might sound too saccharine or too simplistic to some. It is positive, radically so. And it is simple in theory. But in practice, it isn’t easy to acknowledge negative impulses, or to forgive ourselves for thinking negative thoughts, or to summon the good will to genuinely wish rivals well. All three of these steps require practice. Just as we teach our athletes, pianists, and dancers to practice their physical skills, and we could also teach them to practice these psychological skills. 

I didn’t set out to write the Star Striker series to teach this meditation. The series is not a self-help textbook. It’s an adventurous, sci-fi sports story. But authors find that our own experiences have a way of seeping into the work. I’m not an athlete, but I’ve felt anxiety about performing as a musician. And I’ve learned about athletic competition through my 26-year-old son Simon Amato’s experience as an athlete, trainer, and co-founder of the fitness company Life of Gains. I know that competition can be a driver of personal growth if it’s framed in a healthy way. 

Instead of responding to rivalry with the desire to tear down an opponent, we can respond with the desire to build up our own skills. “Training with or playing against athletes that are stronger can push you to work harder,” my son Simon says. “Opponents can be opportunities. I’m always grateful when I get to play a game against great athletes.” 

Over the years, I have received so many letters from young readers who have let me know that a character’s experience has moved them—even transformed them. With this new series, I am hoping that Albert’s willingness to look directly at his own challenges and respond with positivity will resonate with my readers and inspire them to do the same.

Meet the author

Mary Amato is the award-winning author of over twenty-five works of fiction for children and young adults. Her latest book Star Striker: Game On! is about a 13-year-old athlete who not only deals with ordinary middle-school challenges but is also recruited by an extraordinary team of aliens to play in a high-stakes interplanetary soccer tournament. www.maryamato.com

About Star Striker: Game On!

Join Albert and a group of ragtag aliens as they dribble, cross, and score across the galaxy in this soccer-themed story of unlikely friendships.

The day that aliens abducted 13-year-old Albert Kinney was the day he was hoping to make the school soccer team.But that’s the way life works sometimes, especially for Albert.

Astonishingly the Zeenods, don’t want to harm Albert, they want him to play soccer. And so, Albert jumps at the chance to join the Zeenods. Yet just as he is introduced to the specifics of their game and all their high-tech gear, he faces a series of direct threats to his life. Does someone have a mysterious vendetta against Albert? Or does their first opponent, the ruthless team from Planet Tev, want to guarantee that they win?

Action-packed, yet filled with humor and heart, Game On! is the first book in a series that features thrilling play-by-play soccer scenes and an intergalactic plot with far-reaching consequences for the Zeenods—and Earth.

ISBN-13: 9780823449118
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Series: Star Striker
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

A Final Season, a guest post by Tim Green

Although Final Season is a work of fiction, much of the story is true. Because I have already used my own kids’ names and personalities as the main characters in my Football Genius series, I’ve chosen to use everyone’s middle name in this story, including my own middle name of John. Instead of the Green family, we are the Redds. Many of the other characters, especially Ben’s teammates in football and lacrosse are based on real kids with their real names and personalities. However, some, like Tuna and Woody, are entirely fictitious. I also added two characters, Thea and Rohan, who are my grandkids and too young to have been in the actual story, but whose personalities are spot on. 

At the heart of Final Season is the question of whether football is safe for kids to play. Our family was split on this, and I contend that there is no right answer, but only a choice that parents and kids must make according to their own beliefs and priorities.

The author in his NFL days.

For me, it was the right decision, despite the cost. Football paid for my education and my kids’ educations. Football opened doors in writing, business, television, and law. Football built our family’s home on a beautiful lake in a picturesque town, and enough land for each of our kids to build their own homes. Also, being an NFL player made my biggest childhood dream come true. 

My second big childhood dream was to become a writer. I have loved reading books since the third grade. To me, books were magic. They could take me away to another time and place. They could make me laugh and make me cry. In the heroes, I could see something of myself, or something I wanted to be. In the villains, I saw the things I didn’t want to be. So, I ached to make magic of my own one day. I was fortunate to have mentors and role models as an English major at Syracuse University who are giants in the world of literature, and others who are just plain brilliant. 

So, when ALS tried to take writing away from me, I fought back hard. One of my first symptoms of the disease was the loss of strength and coordination in my fingers. I had spent nearly thirty-five years writing and therefore typing every day. When I first started out I longed for the day when the words would just flow from my mind through my fingers to the page. It took many years for that to happen, but it did, and I was loath to give it up. 

Finally, my fingers became useless, but my thumbs still had some life left in them. I knew because I could text on my smartphone pretty well.  Asked myself if I could write an entire three hundred page novel with my thumbs. My answer was, “Why not?” So, in 2017 I wrote The Big Game on my phone with my thumbs. Then my thumbs went the way of my fingers. I had to find something that could get the stories out of my mind and onto the page. A friend who I told of my dilemma found a company called Lyre Bird. They had developed a system where I could stick a dot on my glasses so a sensor could pick up the movement of my head. With it, I could move the mouse across the screen, select a letter, and press a large button to type it. 

I wrote my next book using that system, but my body continued to succumb to the disease, and I grew nervous about committing myself to another technology that would one day probably fail me. Around the same time I developed pneumonia and nearly died. To save me, the medical team had to give me an emergency tracheotomy, leaving me literally speechless. Advanced technology saved me again with a cutting edge computer program that could take all the audio book recordings I’d narrated over the years and synthesize my voice. To do this I had to use another new technology, a Tobii Dynavox Eye Tracker.  

The Tracker allows me to select letters by resting my gaze on the letters of a keyboard that takes up a little less than half of an iPad. Knowing that this method would avail itself to me for the rest of my life, I committed to the transition. Like all the previous methods for writing, it gets better with age, and the first chapter of Final Season took thrice the time as the last. Even with that improvement, I doubt I’ll ever have the fluidity of typing with my fingers. Nevertheless, I will continue to write, for you, and for me. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading Final Season as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Meet the author

TIM GREEN is a retired professional American football player, a radio and television personality, and a bestselling author. He was a linebacker and defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, a commentator for National Public Radio and NFL on Fox, and the former host of the 2005 revival of A Current Affair. In 2018, Green announced on social media that he was diagnosed with ALS and was featured on 60 Minutes discussing his life and struggles with the disease. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and close to all of his five children.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authortimgreen

Instagram & Twitter: @Timgreenbooks

About Final Season

From New York Times bestselling author and former NFL player Tim Green comes a gripping, deeply personal standalone football novel about a star middle school quarterback faced with a life-changing decision after his dad is diagnosed with ALS. Perfect for fans of Mike Lupica!

With two all-star college football players for brothers and a former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman for a father, it is only natural for sixth-grade quarterback Benjamin Redd to follow in their footsteps.

However, after his dad receives a heartbreaking ALS diagnosis—connected to all those hard hits and tackles he took on the field—Ben’s mom becomes more determined than ever to get Ben to quit football.

Ben isn’t playing just for himself though. This might be his dad’s last chance to coach. And his teammates need a quarterback that can lead them to the championships. But as Ben watches the heavy toll ALS takes on his dad’s body, he begins to question if this should be his final season after all. 

ISBN-13: 9780062485953
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

A Case for More Girls’ Sports Teams in YA, a guest post by Emma Kress

While sports books featuring boys have been on shelves for decades, those depicting girls as equally committed and serious about their sport could fit on a much smaller set of shelves. As an English teacher, I taught many female students who were deeply dedicated to their sports, and yet I had few books to place in their hands when they were looking for a book to act as a mirror, rather than a window.

That said, there were a few. When I first started writing Dangerous Play back in 2014, there were several wonderful books featuring sporty girls: Dairy Queen (2006), by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, remains one of my favorite books about a girl athlete; and Miranda Kenneally started publishing books about girl athletes back in 2011. But my athletic girl students wanted more.

Thankfully, this is changing.

Now, there are several wonderful books featuring devoted girl athletes. Just this year, we can add young-adult debuts like Holly Green’s In the Same Boat, Sajni Patel’s The Knockout, and Mariko Turk’s The Other Side of Perfect to our shelves. And last year, I was blown away by Yamile Saied Mendez’s Furia, Sarah Henning’s Throw Like A Girl, and Jennifer Iacopelli’s Break the Fall.

Thrillingly, there are more athletic books featuring non-binary characters too. Check out contemporary young-adult debuts The Passing Playbook, by Isaac Fitzsimmons, and May the Best Man Win, by ZR Ellor.

It’s all the more important that these feminist athletic books exist because in the past, toxic masculinity was as much a part of sports culture as cleats and sneakers. In so many movies and books, not only was there no space left on the page for the serious girl athlete, but we had to swallow casual misogyny along with our Gatorade. Thankfully, that’s changing. Still, there’s more to do.

In the future, I hope we see more books that feature not just female athletes, but diverse teams of athletic girls working together to achieve their goals. Because while the number of books about athletic girls has increased, few depict girls’ sports teams.

After having written Dangerous Play, which seeks to represent a diverse sports team environment, I think it’s safe to say choosing to focus on a single athletic girl rather than a full sports team might be a matter of writerly sanity. Dangerous Play has a 26+-person cast and phew, it was difficult to juggle that many characters let alone develop them.

And yet, I think it’s important to shine a light on the special and intense friendships that can happen on a competitive sports team, especially for girls. I can list dozens of movies that celebrate bromances on the ice, court, or field. I love sports team movies like Miracle, Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, and Friday Night Lights. I cheer louder at that final underdog victory because of those engaging friendships. But where are our movies celebrating underdog girls’ sports teams and their powerful friendships?

A League of Their Own is pretty much it. Bend It Like Beckham is wonderful, but only depicts the friendship of two members of the team. Ditto for Bring It On. And while I love A League of Their Own, it came out twenty-nine years ago. In this age of real-life GOATs (Greatest Of All Time athletes) like Simone Biles, Lindsay Vonn, Lisa Leslie, Serena Williams, and the entire US Women’s National Soccer Team we can do better. We need to do better.

Solidarity and sisterhood are critical parts of my feminism. And, while I adore a good romance, I think for most teens, romantic relationships aren’t the defining relationships of their teen years—friendships are. And friendships can be so much more complex and intense when we place them inside the pressure cooker of a competitive and grueling sport.

Athletes on school teams practice several hours every day during the season. Pre-season is filled with pick-up games, demanding tryouts, and “two-a-day” practices. Then, there are the long road trips on stinky school buses. Anyone who has participated in a school play or spent long hours in a newspaper or yearbook office knows the sort of friendships that can bloom during those endless nights. There’s something about those long hours that fosters inside jokes and shorthand slang, made-up dances and elaborate handshakes. There’s an everyday intimacy that develops: you know what someone looks like when they fail a test or forget to eat; you know how they like to sit and the words they overuse. When this shared time is over a shared passion, real intimacy and trust develop. Sports only heightens these connections. Team athletes see each other at their most physically powerful and most physically vulnerable. When they work together to beat the odds, stretch their limits, and claim that trophy, they create a world in which they are all the main characters. They create a world in which power and victory are shared.

I believe that for feminism to move forward, we must be intersectional. What better way to examine intersectional feminist friendships than through a sports team? Let’s see girls of color, trans girls, body-positive girls, queer girls, and girls from varied socio-economic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds on the same teams. If we want to see a future of greater equality and empathy, we need to give the teen girls of today books in which they see groups of diverse girls laughing together, crying together, and working together toward a common goal. If we want to see a future of greater equality and empathy, perhaps we might start by imagining worlds in which the glory is shared.

After all, girl power is best with friends.

Meet the Author

Photo credit: Erin Summerill

Emma Kress is a long-time educator and 2014 finalist for NY State Teacher of the Year. She’s a graduate of Vassar College, Columbia University’s Teachers College, and the MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives with her family in Saratoga Springs, NY. Dangerous Play is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter and TikTok @emma_kress and Instagram @kress.emma, or at www.emmakress.com

About Dangerous Play

Designer: Aurora Parlagreco; Artist: Laura Callaghan

A fierce team of girls takes back the night in this propulsive, electrifying, and high-stakes YA debut from Emma Kress

Zoe Alamandar has one goal: win the State Field Hockey Championships and earn a scholarship that will get her the hell out of Central New York. She and her co-captain Ava Cervantes have assembled a fierce team of dedicated girls who will work hard and play by the rules.

But after Zoe is sexually assaulted at a party, she finds a new goal: make sure no girl feels unsafe again. Zoe and her teammates decide to stop playing by the rules and take justice into their own hands. Soon, their suburban town has a team of superheroes meting out punishments, but one night of vigilantism may cost Zoe her team, the championship, her scholarship, and her future.

Perfect for fans who loved the female friendships of Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie and the bite of Courtney Summer’s Sadie.

ISBN-13: 9781250750488
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 08/03/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

THIS IS NO GAME: WHEN FACTS MATTER, SPORTS NON-FICTION IS A GOOD PLACE TO TURN, a guest post by Andrew Maraniss

Everything we hunger for in this country right now – racial and economic justice, environmental sustainability, a stable democracy, managing COVID – requires a fundamental commitment to seeking the truth and acknowledging basic facts.

As this year’s theme for Teen Librarian Toolbox states, #FactsMatter.

It’s such a timely theme. And such an indictment of so many of our neighbors that we even have to say it.

With so many powerful institutions profiting from lies, “alternative facts,” and conspiracy theories  – from Fox News to corners of the Internet to the Republican Party  — it falls on the rest of us to push against the rising tide of misinformation and hate in whatever ways we can.

I’ve chosen to do it by writing books for young readers that extol the enduring values of truth, equity, and justice through the lens of sports.

Maraniss with Perry Wallace

My first book, STRONG INSIDE, is the story of Perry Wallace, the Vanderbilt basketball player who desegregated the Southeastern Conference in the 1960s and later became an esteemed law professor. My second book, GAMES OF DECEPTION, is the story of the first U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, which played at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. My third book, which just came out this week, SINGLED OUT, is a biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player and inventor of the high-five. I’m writing a book now on the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, to be told in the context of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s.

Why sports? First, I’ve been hooked as long as I can remember. I taught myself to read as a five-year-old by examining the back of baseball cards. The first time I cried of happiness came when I was 12 years old and Cecil Cooper delivered a game-winning hit for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 playoffs. One of the biggest thrills of my life came in 1998, when I was able to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium as a member of the media relations staff for the Tampa Bay Rays. I went to college on a sportswriting scholarship and my ‘day job’ today is in the Athletic Department at Vanderbilt University.

But more important than any of that, what I value most about writing about sports is that it’s a genre that is highly accessible to just about anyone. When a young person picks up a book with a baseball or basketball player on the cover, it’s likely that they’re not going to feel intimidated by the subject. But once they dig into the story, they’ll realize the stories are not about scores and statistics or tired sports clichés– but about the denial of justice to so many in America and around the world, whether by racism, fascism, antisemitism, homophobia, or sexism, and the critical difference between being a bystander and upstander in the face of such injustices.

Because sports-related nonfiction offers “windows and mirrors,” (the term originated by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) a peak into the lives of other people or a reflection of the reader’s own place in the world, they provide valuable opportunities for empathy and understanding. And the audience for sports books is probably as broad or broader than any other genre –  no parameters on age, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, geography, academic achievement, race, or religion.

But within that universality, there is also a subversive element to the best sports books. For many people, the sports world has been seen as American as hot dogs and apple pie – where old-fashioned notions of patriarchy, patriotism, and white supremacy have traditionally gone unchallenged. So what better genre than sports to shine a light on the everyday elements of American life that have perpetuated injustice? These are the stories where the truth shines the brightest.

The lasting lesson of both STRONG INSIDE and GAMES OF DECEPTION, books that deal respectively with the civil rights movement here and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, is the same: the profound danger of standing by and doing nothing when injustices are perpetrated against others. I think of that lesson often when I hear people criticize modern-day athletes for taking a stand for justice, whether it’s NFL players taking a knee or WNBA players supporting a Senate candidate. If the big truth to be learned from these monumental periods in world history is to speak up, then how can one fault athletes, citizens like anyone else, for using their platforms to call out injustice? When Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tells LeBron to “just shut up and dribble,” we see clearly that she’s not just missing the lesson of history, but actively suppressing the truth.

For those who haven’t succumbed to the notion that the truth is irrelevant, it’s easy to spot the liars. But we must also to turn a skeptical eye toward those who call for unity or civility. Of course, both concepts sound reasonable and are desirable long-term outcomes. But as Perry Wallace once told me, “reconciliation without the truth is just acting.” Any efforts toward unity and civility must include truth-telling and acknowledgement of facts as necessary preconditions. Unity and civility without justice are just other names for oppression.

The best nonfiction books – even sports books! — name the problem, praise the real-life heroes, call out the real-life villains, and pose direct questions where facts determine the right answers.

Now more than ever, #FactsMatter.

Meet the author

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss writes sports-related nonfiction for adult, Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. His books have received the Lillian Smith Book Award, RFK Book Awards Special Recognition Prize, and Sydney Taylor Honor Award. Andrew lives in Nashville and manages the Sports & Society Initiative at Vanderbilt University. Read more about his books at www.andrewmaraniss.com and follow him on Twitter @trublu24, Instagram @amaraniss, and on Facebook at /andrewmaranissauthor.

About Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

From New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss comes the remarkable true story of Glenn Burke, a “hidden figure” in the history of sports: the inventor of the high five and the first openly gay MLB player. Perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Daniel James Brown. 

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five. 

But Glenn also made history in another way—he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn’s sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQIA+ community would resonate for years to come. 

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss tells the story of Glenn Burke: from his childhood growing up in Oakland, his journey to the MLB and the World Series, the joy in discovering who he really was, to more difficult times: facing injury, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic.

Packed with black-and-white photographs and thoroughly researched, never-before-seen details about Glenn’s life, Singled Out is the fascinating story of a trailblazer in sports—and the history and culture that shaped the world around him.

ISBN-13: 9780593116722
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: March Madness Bracketology

Background: Basketball is my favorite sport. I was lucky enough to live in Joliet, IL which is just an hour away from Chicago. I grew up watching the Chicago Bulls during their prime. It was a magical time.

I also am a Kansas Jayhawk. I went to the University of Kansas for a short while and both my parents and sister went there. The University of Kansas is one of the premier basketball schools in the country. The first Kansas coach was Dr James Naismith who actually invented the game of basketball and KU houses the Original Rules of Basketball.

What is March Madness?

March Madness is the NCAA basketball tournament (Men’s and Women’s) of which the winner is the national champion. Currently the tournament includes the top 68 teams in the country. 32 of the teams are the winners of the conference tournaments held in March which get automatic bids. The rest are picked by rankings and their strength of schedule. It is always hard to figure who is in and who is out. The champion is crowned in April.

Here is the link to the NCAA page about the bracket. It has a nice video that gives more information about how the tournament runs. I also have last year’s bracket so you can get a better idea of how the bracket will look.

https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/ncaa-bracket-march-madness

How to create a program:

This is hard to program time wise. You have to wait until selection Sunday to do the Men’s Bracket. The Women’s Bracket is released the following Monday. Games for the Men’s Tournament actually start that Tuesday night. I like to have the program start on that Tuesday so I can have the participants both brackets that night.  The Women’s Bracket is not as challenging. The University of Connecticut women have won six times in the last decade. It takes away a lot of upsets. This year should be more interesting as UCONN already is projected to be a second seed instead of a number one seed. Baylor beat UCONN at home which snapped their home winning streak of 98 games. Brackets come out for the men on March 15 and Women March 16.

Steps

  1. Print out brackets.  I like to use CBS Sports Brackets because I think they usually have the best bracket or Yahoo Sports Brackets.
  2. Bring a lot of pencils. You need to make sure the teens will be able to erase.
  3. I like to talk about the history of college basketball and explain what the brackets mean. Each of the four brackets has a number one seed. These are the best teams in the country. The 16th seeds are the worst. The Number 16 team plays the Number 1 team in the first game up. Until 2018 a Number One Seed had never lost to a Number 16. In the Men’s Bracket in 2018 University of Maryland Baltimore County (16) beat Virginia(1).
  4. Explain how to fill out their brackets. Please look over the bracket before you hand them out so you know how to fill them out. For the play in the games I have them circle who they believe will win. For the rest of the games I have them write in t their winners. This part takes the most time. A lot of the teens have no idea how to fill it out. I tell them they can pick different ways. I always like the cutest mascot. It really can work well. I make sure to tell them to not always pick the higher team in the bracket because they are always upsets. I check handwriting on this part because it is really important that you can read them.
  5. I always like to end the program playing a One Shining Moment video which is the song they play at the end of the tournament.

After the program: I like to have a prize for the teen who had the best bracket. This means waiting until after the Championship Game. I do a simple scoring which I give each right answer one point but you can do it a lot of ways such as one point for round 1 and 2 and then up the points for the later rounds. This is subjective. I make them write a score for the final game to be a tie breaker but have never had to use it.  I call the winner and give them a random prize.

Final Thoughts: This was an easy program for me since I know a lot about basketball. If you are doing it for the first time, I do recommend learning more about the tournament to be prepared to help the teens. There are often questions. The teens who like sports love to do this program and try to out basketball trivia on me which is fun.

Editor’s Note: You can also use the March Madness bracket format to do a book themed program. Here’s an older post about this.

Book Review: Jerkbait by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

jerkbaitEven though they’re identical, Tristan isn’t close to his twin Robbie at all—until Robbie tries to kill himself. Forced to share a room to prevent Robbie from hurting himself, the brothers begin to feel the weight of each other’s lives on the ice, and off. Tristan starts seeing his twin not as a hockey star whose shadow Tristan can’t escape, but a struggling gay teen terrified about coming out in the professional sports world.

Robbie’s future in the NHL is plagued by anxiety and the mounting pressure from their dad, coach, and scouts, while Tristan desperately fights to create his own future, not as a hockey player but a musical theatre performer. As their season progresses and friends turn out to be enemies, Robbie finds solace in an online stranger known only as “Jimmy2416.” Between keeping Robbie’s secret and saving him from taking his life, Tristan is given the final call: sacrifice his dream for a brother he barely knows, or pursue his own path.

How far is Robbie willing to go—and more importantly, how far is Tristan willing to go to help him?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I overuse the phrase “rage blackout.” I’m sure I’ve claimed that 2/3 of all things in existence have given me a rage blackout. I’m easily annoyed. BUT. BUT. This book gave me a rage blackout. The parents are AWFUL. The way Robbie’s teammates treat him is AWFUL. And did I mention that the parents are AWFUL? Because they are. But we’ll talk about them later.

 

Tristan has always felt like he’s lived in Robbie’s shadow. Though they both play hockey (and their former hockey player father is their manager), Robbie’s the star, the one who will be drafted and go on to a huge career. But not if it gets out that he’s depressed. That he’s tried to kill himself three times. That he’s gay. At least, according to their monster of a father. All of that is bad press for Robbie, so the obvious thing to do is cover it up, not address any of the very serious issues, and focus on that goal: getting drafted. Sure. Great parenting. Your kid will be fine. You’re doing a good job. 

 

(You can come join me in my rage blackout—it’s kind of satisfying to get so mad.)

 

I could yell for paragraphs about their cruddy parenting and extreme denial, but I won’t. You get the idea already, I’m sure, that they suck. They pull him from the hospital early after attempt number one so he doesn’t miss a hockey game. They cover up the truth with lies, don’t do anything to help Robbie, and basically blame Tristan for what’s going on with Robbie AND make him responsible for watching over him to prevent future issues. Tristan, who quits hockey after some epic homophobic bullying, just wants to focus on his burgeoning theater career. He loves theater, has a knack for singing, dancing, and acting, and wants to grab the opportunities in front of him. But that’s hard to do when you’re supposed to be keeping your depressed wreck of a brother from committing suicide. Things become even more complicated and convoluted when Tristan learns Robbie is gay. Robbie is terrified of what coming out will mean for his life and his career—but not so terrified that he doesn’t out himself in an effort to save Tristan from some bullying. His teammates react just as terribly as you can possibly imagine. And when his parents find out? It’s a nightmare.

 

There’s a lot to talk about with this book. Siegert is tackling big topics: teenage sports careers; being not just a closeted gay teen but a closeted gay teen athlete; sibling/twin relationships; depression and suicide attempts; crappy parents; crappy friendships; homophobia; stigma with mental illness, and so much more. Plus, the book takes a big twist near the end when Robbie gets the brilliant idea that the answer to all of their problems is running away to go stay with this older dude he met online. That never turns out well, does it? And in this case, it REALLY, REALLY goes badly. Though it ends on a hopeful note, this is not a light read at all. It’s pretty much the worst case scenario for all things with the exception of the way Robbie and Tristan grow closer and more supportive of each other. It’s a dark, upsetting, frustrating, painful look at the pressure on teen athletes, at what happens when mental illness is ignored and untreated, and at how horribly scary coming out can be, especially for teens whose parents are hateful and unsupportive. Bleak but powerful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781631630668

Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Publication date: 05/03/2016