Matchsticks: An Education in Black & White
By: Fred Engh with Jann Seal - Square One Publishers, $24.95
Description: The year was 1961, a year marking the start of the racial unrest that would last throughout the decade. Living in a trailer camp in Maryland with his wife and children, Fred’s future seemed bleak—that is, until he heard a college football coach being interviewed on a local radio show talking about becoming a Physical Education teacher.
The coach’s words would inspire him enough to register at Maryland State College, a then all-black college. The thing of it was, Fred Engh was white. He would become the first white student to attend Maryland State, a segregated college.
His intention was not to break any racial barriers or make any headlines. He simply wanted a better life for himself and his family as an accredited teacher.
What he learned from attending that college however was something he had not expected. Matchsticks: An Education in Black & White is his story.
Verdict: In what is a totally engrossing read, from cover to cover (and even for those sports-minded folk that didn’t know about this, or perhaps those others that don’t even like sport of any kind), we learn from the off a lot about Fred Engh, that helps us sit alongside him growing up and take the path he himself chose for not only a better life for himself, but an easier, more accomplished one for others too.
Fred was raised on the Eastern Shore of Maryland when racial discrimination was part of everyday living. African-Americans were not permitted in social areas with white folk, but in the 1960s, things changed. African-Americans no longer accepted “Jim Crow” laws and thus riots began to form.
Amidst these tense times, Fred decided to attend an all-Black college and as much as it wasn’t to prove anything, per say, it was the only opportunity he had to receive a degree in his chosen field of Physical Education.
Born with a learning disability when he was young, Fred had never even read a book until his late twenties, but sure enough, once he got the knack, not only did books ignite his desire for more stored information, but as time rolled on, the unlikely story of two people of different races becoming friends at a time when society frowned on such friendships was up ahead.
One of the most interesting stories from the book - of which, believe me, there are many - was when his friend, Bob Taylor, an African-American standout football player on the college team, asked him if he played golf.
Fred told him he did. Bob commented that he also loved golf and thus they became partners on the college golf team and traveled throughout the mid-Atlantic for their golf matches with other colleges.
Fred adds to the story, albeit you sense with an air of passing superficiality now, the mental picture that being the only white person in a car with other African-American players on the team caused fear on many occasions.
As for how his co-author Jann Seal came to be, Fred openly, honestly says that even though he felt from the beginning that he knew how to write that he soon found out that he was a minor league writer! Jann, who subsequently guided him throughout, is the person who made this book what it ultimately is, so Fred reveals, helping him bring it to life on the page.
Fred Engh and his non-profit organization, NAYS — the National Alliance for Youth Sports — have positively affected the lives of millions of children throughout the country for decades, but chances are you have never heard of him or his group.
What he has tried to do is make organized sports for kids fun. He has done this by training coaches to be fair, avoid playing favorites, bulling players, and stopping fans from getting out of control. He has also tried to even the playing field for children of different colors and ethnicities.
From baseball to soccer to golf, he has made it his mission to let children choose to play the sport they love — no matter where they live or how well they play. And yet, the story behind how he discovered his calling in life is definitely a remarkable one of transition.
Today, when racial disparagement has once again taken the form of marches, protesters, and daily news headlines, here is a tale of discovery, understanding, and personal change. A lesson still as valuable today as it was then.
About the Authors Fred Engh has been involved in youth sports for over thirty years — as a coach, athletic director, and sports educator. In 1981, he founded a program that evolved into The National Alliance For Youth Sports (NAYS), a nonprofit organization that works to provide safe sports for America’s youth. As president of the Alliance, Engh has appeared on numerous television shows, including Dateline NBC and 20/20.
Jann Seal attended the University of Maryland in College Park receiving her undergraduate degree in English. After driving around the world in a Land Rover and writing about her adventures, she began her career teaching high school English in Baltimore’s inner city.
With a move to Los Angeles, she became an advertising copy writer opening the door to writing for network television soap operas. Jann currently writes and edits magazines and newspaper articles and has published a cookbook. She and her husband Paul live in Lake Worth, Florida.
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