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The story of a historic boycott by thirty-one black players on a Southern high school football team.
As in many small towns in the South, folks in Conway, South Carolina, fill the stands on fall Fridays to cheer on their local high school football squad. In 1989—with returning starter Carlos Hunt at quarterback and having finished with an 8-4 record in 1988—hopes were high that the beloved Tigers would win their first state championship. But during spring practice, Coach Chuck Jordan (who is white) moved Hunt (who is black) to defensive back and put in at quarterback Mickey Wilson, an inexperienced white player. Seeing this demotion of the black quarterback as an example of the racism prevalent in football generally and in Conway specifically, thirty-one of the team’s thirty-seven black players—under the guidance of H. H. Singleton, pastor of Cherry Hill Missionary Baptist Church and president of the local NAACP—boycotted the team in protest. The Rev. Singleton was suspended and then ultimately fired from his job as a teacher in the local school system for his role in the boycott.
Protesters Marching in Support of the Rev. Singleton in 1989
The season-long strike severed the town along racial lines, as it became clear that the incident was about much more than football. It was about the legacy of slavery and segregation and Jim Crow and other points of tension and oppression that many people in Conway—and the South—had wrongly assumed were settled.
Chuck Jordan today. Mickey Wilson today and in 1989
While the 1989 season is long over, the story reverberates today. Chuck Jordan is still coaching at Conway High, and he’s still without a state championship. Meanwhile, Mickey Wilson is now coaching Conway’s fiercest rival, the Myrtle Beach Seahawks. In the annual Victory Bell Game between Conway and Myrtle Beach, the biggest contest of the year for both teams, a veteran coach and his young protégé compete against each other—against the backdrop of a racial conflict that bitterly divided a small Southern town.
Lines of Scrimmage does more than retell the events of 1989. The authors served as “embedded reporters” with the current-day Conway and Myrtle Beach teams for an entire season and conducted in-depth interviews with many of the key figures from the boycott year. The result is a book that shows we can never leave the past completely behind us, but we’re not always tied to it or limited by it, either.
“This true story is told with the narrative skill and moral complexity of an excellent novel. Once I started this book, I couldn’t put it down. LINES OF SCRIMMAGE is an outstanding achievement.”
–Ron Rash, author of SERENA
“As a coach who knows how the game works behind the scenes, I like how this book shows the real work of football in a way that few other books can match.”
-Joe Moglia, Head Football Coach at Coastal Carolina University and Chairman of the TD Ameritrade Board of Directors
“Wonderfully reported and written; a perfect miniature of an entire America.”
–Jeff MacGregor, author of SUNDAY MONEY; senior writer Sports Illustrated, ESPN, Smithsonian Magazine.
“LINES OF SCRIMMAGE is sociology masquerading as sports reporting. It’s no small bonus that it entertains the whole time it enlightens.”
–Kyle Minor, author of PRAYING DRUNK
If you would like more information about the Conway High School football boycott of 1989 and the people involved in the story, please click on any of the links below:
- 2014 article in Weekly Surge by Joe Oestreich and Scott Pleasant
- 1989 article in Sports Illustrated by Hank Hersch
- 1990 article in the Seattle (WA) Times
- 2014 article in The State (Columbia, SC)
- 2013 article at MyHorryNews.com by Steve Robertson
- 2012 article at MyrtleBeachOnline by Maya Prabhu