Jack Travers, a social studies teacher and longtime football coach at Boston College High School, lives in Lynn, Massachusetts along with his wife Janice and their two children, Gina and Joseph. Jack holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master in Arts and Teaching from Boston College and a J.D. from the New England School of Law. As a native of Greater Boston and a twenty eight veteran of the classroom, Jack is thoroughly familiar with the themes that permeate his young adult novel, Team Player.
Kyle Donovan’s well manicured world is falling apart. His parents have lost the family business and now they are divorcing. To make matters worse, Kyle’s mom suffers from severe depression and will check into a mental health facility in Vermont, hours from the Donovan home in wealthy Fairview, Massachusetts. And the final disruption….Kyle will move into his curmudgeon of a grandfather’s house in blue collar, ethnically diverse Crandall, Massachusetts.
Demographically and aesthetically, Crandall and Fairview are as far apart as one could imagine. Kyle does not know much about his grandfather, Francis Xavier Donovan except that he’s a retired carpenter and Marine war hero who always kind of scared him during his rare Sunday afternoon visits to Crandall. And everyone called him Butchie…there was no one in Fairview named Butchie.
Kyle reluctantly moves into his grandfather’s modest two family house on a crowded city street where residents claim street parking spots after a snowstorm with a barrel or folding chair. However, there is one possibility of hope for Kyle. Football has always represented more than simply a fall activity for Kyle Donovan. As Kyle navigates through the tumult of his new life, two factors help him maintain his sanity: football and, more importantly, a burgeoning relationship with Grandpa Butch.
Football makes sense to Kyle. No matter what’s happening at home or in the classroom, it’s still eleven versus eleven on the field. Kyle soon discovers that that fact is true whether the games are played in Fairview or Crandall. Through football, Kyle builds vital Crandall friendships (particularly with Eduardo Alves, Sal LoGrasso and Raymond Boursiquot) that ultimately surpass his relationships in Fairview.
Kyle also finds the compassion and warmth behind his grandfather’s gruff exterior. Because of Butchie’s alcoholism, his relationship with his son Tim (Kyle’s father) is strained at best. Tim Donovan cannot erase uncomfortable childhood memories and Butchie must live with his mistakes. Yet, the old man is determined to redeem himself and the bond between grandfather and grandson is a central theme of the novel.
Kyle’s transition is tested by conflict, both internal and external. He finds himself torn between his old existence in Fairview (and his girlfriend, Ashley Novack) and his new life (Grandpa Butch, a group of loyal friends, a potential love interest in Katie O’Brien) in Crandall.
Kyle’s confusion becomes particularly acute when his old school, exclusive Fairview Prep, offers him a scholarship to return. The offer tempts Kyle; it means a return to what he had, maybe a better opportunity to attend an Ivy League college. Yet there is so much about Crandall that now tugs at his loyalty and affection. The football team is undefeated, he has settled in comfortably with a diverse group of friends, his interest in Katie is increasing and there’s Grandpa Butch, who confronts a diagnosis of colon cancer as if it were a common cold.
An unsupervised party at Ashley’s house in Fairview makes Kyle’s decision much easier. Ashley reluctantly allows Kyle to bring three of his Crandall buddies (Eduardo, Sal and Raymond) to the party. The Crandall guys become self-conscious as they enter Fairview. After all, there aren’t many Haitians or Brazilians living in the town.
Many of the Fairview football players are present at the party and they know about Kyle’s scholarship offer. They naturally assume that Kyle would be rejoining them for rest of the football season. Only a few people in Crandall know of Kyle’s potential departure. He has only shared the information with Butch, Katie, Coach Bonfiglio (Crandall football coach) and Paul Elliot, his best friend in Fairview.
The party is fairly peaceful until Ashley’s parents unexpectedly return home from their vacation and catch a few of the partygoers smoking marijuana. Dr. Novack demands answers and the Fairview kids accuse Kyle’s Crandall friends of bringing the drugs to the party. A fight breaks out between Crandall and Fairview and Ashley validates the false accusation against the Crandall guys. Kyle and friends are forced to leave the party and Kyle knows that he can never return to Fairview. Only Paul Elliot stands by Kyle at great personal cost.
The party represents the turning point of Team Player. It is at this juncture that Kyle fully embraces all that is Crandall. Also, near this point in the book, Grandpa Butch catches pneumonia. Kyle resolves to sleep in his grandfather’s hospital room until he recovers. Their bond is so great that Kyle is willing to miss the all-important playoff games to stay with his grandfather. It is an extraordinary act of love and loyalty. Eventually, Butch recovers and Kyle returns to practice.
Crandall High School and Fairview Prep are also heading for a climatic championship game. When both teams advance to the Massachusetts state final, the tension reaches an almost unbearable level. Kyle is caught in the middle and feels the hopes and expectations of virtually the entire Crandall community on his shoulders
Kyle’s mother leaves the Vermont facility and travels to Crandall to live with Kyle and Grandpa Butch. Kyle’s father finds employment in Hartford, Connecticut and finally agrees that it is best for Kyle to stay with his mother and grandfather in Crandall.
With his domestic situation stabilized, Kyle focuses completely on the championship game against Fairview. There is a scuffle before the game and the stadium feels as if it is going to explode. In the game, Kyle fumbles at a key point. In the end, the sight of Grandpa Butch, standing at the fence behind the Crandall bench, holding up his Sixth Marine Division patch inspires Kyle to shake off his despair and he summons all of his strength and intestinal fortitude to lead Crandall to victory.
To my wife and best friend, Janice
football, sports, life, coming, age
After his parents’ marriage and finances collapse, high school junior Kyle Donovan must move in with his no nonsense grandfather in the city, and discover whether football can help him overcome ethnic, and socioeconomic obstacles.
I glanced up from the huddle and took a good look at the scoreboard:
My left shoulder ached. I tried to flex my fingers and bend my wrist but the pain darted directly to my shoulder. I winced as I adjusted my shoulder pads. Twenty seven rushes into the Fairfield defensive line had done some damage. On both sides. They had scouted us well...our best passing play all year was a flea flicker thrown by the fullback, but today it fooled absolutely no one. We had to grind it out.
The crowd noise was deafening. I had been playing football since I was nine years old, but I had never before played before twenty thousand screaming maniacs. And these fans weren’t sitting on their hands. After all, this was for the State Championship with several college scouts watching intently. To say nothing of the bitter feelings between the two teams.
I looked around the huddle, at these ten other guys...some were black, some were white and some were brown. I realized that I could call every one of them a friend. I couldn’t say that in August but it was November now and things had changed.
And now there were eight seconds left for the Crandall Hawks to accomplish something that at one time seemed unthinkable: beating the mighty Fairview Eagles.
Conversation was sparse during this timeout, the final timeout of the season and the prelude to the last eight seconds of ever playing organized football for many in the huddle. I quickly scanned the bleachers for a familiar face but the pain and the drizzle had transformed the crowd into a blur of colors and patterns and shapes that were unrecognizable.
I could hear the Fairview students huddled on the track just south of the goalpost. I heard them scream my name.
“Donovan, you're awful!”
“How are things in the slums, Donovan?”
“No way, Donovan! You’re going home in an ambulance!”
I smiled at the taunts. Somewhere deep inside of me I knew that it was my destiny; it was Crandall’s destiny to be in this situation on this day, at this time.
I snapped back to reality as our quarterback, Sal LoGrasso, returned to the huddle. We all clasped hands and Sal called our last play, “Four yards, boys. Going to the bread and butter. This is it...Tight I, toss right on one, on one, ready BREAK!”
As the linemen jogged to the line of scrimmage, I patted the right tackle, Eduardo Loureiro and said, “Nos necessitamo-lo, Eduardo.” He turned and smiled.
I lined up directly behind the fullback and squeezed my hands...I would not allow myself to fumble. I closed my eyes for a split second, took a deep breath. Here we go, who would have thought three months ago that life would lead me to this moment. No time for thinking anymore...
I looked around my room...at the Class B Pop Warner championship photo on the wall above the television. Signed by Steve Grogan at our banquet. The trophies on top of the bureau, a Christmas card I made for Mom and Dad in the fourth grade...I guess I can take all this stuff with me when I move.
I repeated those words to myself: ‘when I move.’ Until fifteen minutes ago, who thought about moving? It was August and I’m two weeks away from my junior year at Fairview Prep. Football double sessions begin in a week with me, Kyle Donovan, the starting tailback, the featured star in Coach Pearson’s wishbone offense. Heck, I was elected captain by my teammates, only the third junior captain in Fairview history. And now here I am, lying in my bed, staring at old Pop Warner photos and thinking about moving.
After I left the kitchen, I ran to my room and cried for about ten minutes. I’m usually not a big crier, but I couldn’t help myself. So I buried my head in my pillow and the tears just flowed. Made me feel a little better but it didn’t change anything. In three days, I’d be unloading furniture. Sixteen years in this house, my whole life...until now. Life sure stinks sometimes.
There was a gentle knock on the door and I heard my mom say, “Kyle...can we come in?” I just cleared my throat because I didn’t want my voice to crack. I guess they heard my grunt because the door slowly opened and my parents walked into my room. I wanted to avoid eye contact but with my parents I never could.
My mother sat on the end of my bed and Dad stood just inside the doorway. Mom put her hand on my arm and said, “We didn’t get a chance to tell you everything, honey.” She glanced back at Dad who looked really tired...more tired than I’ve ever seen him. Mom sighed and said, “You’ll be moving in with Grandpa Butch, Kyle.”
I pushed my mother’s arm away and sat up. “Grandpa Butch!” I said. “He hates me...and he drinks, right Dad? You told me that yourself. Remember? You said Grandpa Butch has a drinking problem. We can’t go live with Grandpa Butch. Plus, he lives in...Crandall! How can we go live in a place like that?” I plopped back on my back and tried to fight the tears.
My father rolled an office chair towards the bed. “There’s more, Kyle.” He closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nose. “You’ll be moving in with Grandpa Butch. Mom and I won’t be going with you.” I stared at a spider on the ceiling. This was just a bad dream...I’d just ride it out and then I’d wake up and my life would be back to normal. But then Dad started talking again and it didn’t seem like a dream.
“Mom and I are separating...just for a while, we hope.” I saw Mom turn away...I knew she was crying. Now I felt like crying again. “It’s been tough, Kyle. I’m sure you’ve noticed things haven’t been great around here lately.” Yeah, but I figured everyone’s parents fought about money and stuff like that. You just don’t split up because you don’t have enough money. Didn’t the priest say “till death do us part? They must have forgotten that part of the wedding.
“You’re not saying anything, Kyle,” Dad said.
“Got nothing to say.”
“Mom’s going to get away for a while. She’s going to stay with Aunt Janice and Uncle Ray in Vermont.” Mom ran from the room. Dad looked back but didn’t follow her...in fact, it almost seemed like he didn’t really care. “I need to look for a job, Kyle. There’s a couple of opportunities in New York, some connections I’ve built up through the years. So we’re both going to be gone for a while.” Dad looked away and I noticed his eyes were moist. He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. He was only forty three and I used to think he looked young. But now he looked pretty old...in fact, he looked a lot like Grandpa Butch.
I sat up and Dad hugged me. I was pissed at him and pissed at Mom and pissed at the banker who was going to sell our house and pissed at all the businesses that wouldn’t buy Dad’s software anymore but I hugged him anyway. We held each other tight and Dad seemed to collapse right there in my arms. My hands were on his back and I felt his body shake. It was weird but I didn’t feel like crying anymore as I held my father. I patted his back, looked at the empty doorway and wondered where Mom went.
Dad left and I tried to make some sense out of everything. Of course, that was useless so I grabbed my cell phone and called Paul Elliott, my best friend.
“Speak,” Paul said. As usual, he was chewing on food probably of the fast food variety.
“Hey, I gotta talk to you.”
“Like I said, speak.”
“No, really, I have to see you.”
There was a silence for a moment and then Paul said, “I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
Paul had turned seventeen in June and he had gotten his license before any of his friends. His father was a medical malpractice lawyer in Boston and his mother was also a lawyer. She worked for one of those big defense firms in town. His parents divorced four years ago and they basically hated each other. Paul would stay with his Dad in the Back Bay for a month or two in the summer and live with his mom here in Fairview the rest of the year. Paul said the only benefit to having divorced parents was that they both tried to out-do each other with presents. When Paul got his license, his dad bought him a new BMW. To compensate, his mom threw him the biggest birthday party in Fairview history when he turned seventeen. Mrs. Elliott actually hired a band and made sure there was a minimum of adult supervision. I’m surprised that Snoop Dogg and Lebron James didn’t show up. My parents’ divorce held no such promise...everyone was broke.
I heard the Beamer’s horn and I rushed down the stairs. Dad sat in the kitchen, poring over some documents that must have something to do with our world falling apart.
“I’m going out, Dad,” I shouted as I opened the front door. Dad said something in return but I honestly didn’t really care what he had to say.
Paul had Kanye West blaring through those impressive German speakers. He’d been listening to Kanye 24-7 for around three months straight. It was beginning to get on my nerves.
“What’s going on?” Paul asked. He had grown his sandy hair down to his shoulders and sported a couple of day’s growth of beard. Paul had started shaving really early in life, probably in sixth grade. That made him a hero in junior high school especially for me. I still only had to shave every third day. Unlike Paul, I kept my blonde hair cut very short year round. Paul would have to get his hair chopped off in a couple weeks anyway when football started. Coach Pearson wouldn’t allow any hippies on his team.
“How you doing?” I said.
“Where we going?” Paul asked as he sped away from my house on Lambert Way. As we drove past the rest of the recently built colonials in the neighborhood, it struck me that this would no longer be home in a couple of days. I felt like crying again but that could never happen in front of Paul despite the fact that he was my best friend.
We drove to Fairview Center which was actually a collection of stylish boutiques, antique stores and a couple of very expensive restaurants. There was a Whole Foods that took quite a while to construct so the builders could ensure that the storefront matched the ‘character of the neighborhood.’ Did I mention that Fairview was probably the wealthiest community in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?
Fortunately, there was one small breakfast/coffee shop in the Center. It was owned by Andy Bronson who had lived in town forever.
Paul parked the BMW in the small parking lot and we entered Andy’s. We had driven in silence the entire trip, which wasn’t really that unusual.
After we sat down, Paul picked up a menu which was completely unnecessary since we had it totally committed to memory. “Alright, so what’s going on? Is this a date or something?” he asked.
I chuckled and responded “Well, I got some news, buddy.” I looked out the window and tapped the table. “I’m moving, probably in the next couple of days. I won’t be going to the Prep anymore.”
Paul dropped the menu to the table. “Come on, don’t screw around. What’s really going on?”
I shook my head. “That’s it, I’m telling the truth. You’re not gonna believe where I’m moving.”
“Wait a minute. You’re serious? What the hell happened?”
I sighed. “Long story.”
“Do I look like I have anything to do?” Paul asked.
“My parents lost our house. The business just fell apart I guess...I’m not really sure, to tell the truth. I knew something was messed up but I didn’t know it was that bad. So the bank’s coming to take the house and...my parents are getting divorced.”
Paul slumped back in the booth and looked at the table. “Divorce? Definitely?” I nodded. “That sucks.”
We were quiet for a minute and than Paul said, “Hey maybe you can come live with me? Come on, we have like seven bedrooms and it’s just me and my mom. My sister’s at college and she never comes home anyway. Then you can still go to Prep.”
“Thanks a lot, man, but we can’t afford the Prep now. I think we barely afforded it last year. I know we got a lot of letters from the treasurer’s office.” I braced myself for my next sentence. “So I’m going to live in Crandall with my grandfather. My dad’s looking for a job in New York and my mom just has to get away for a while I guess.”
Paul’s eyes opened wide in surprise. “Crandall? You gotta be kidding me. That place is a hole.”
It was kind of weird but I already felt a little defensive about living in Crandall. “Come on, it’s not that bad. My grandpa lives in a nice neighborhood.”
“Hey, I’m sorry. I’m just pissed off at everything. This mean you’re going to Crandall High?”
I nodded slowly.
Paul put his hands on his face. “You gonna play football?”
I nodded again. Nothing more had to be said. Crandall High School had played Fairview Prep in the state Super Bowl three years earlier. There were still a lot of bad feelings left over. I remember Paul, me and some other kids watching the game from the sidelines as eighth graders. I also recall being scared out of my mind by the Crandall fans. But really, what choice did I have? Football was sometimes the only thing that made sense to me when things were going good. There was no way I could survive all this crap without playing...even if it was for Crandall High School.
All the Prep kids thought the Crandall kids were punks. I suppose the Crandall kids thought the Fairview kids were rich snobs. The truth was probably somewhere in the middle.
“You talk to Ashley yet?” Paul asked.
I probably should have told Ashley right away but for some reason, I just couldn’t.
“You better call her, pal.”
I sighed and nodded. I picked at the scrambled eggs on my plate and thought about Ashley Novack. I’m not sure that I loved her but it had to be something close. She was just so different from the other girls at the Prep. First of all, she was better looking than ninety percent of them with her long blonde hair and green eyes. She dressed preppy like everyone else at the school but she never dressed to impress...she just dressed the way she was raised to dress, I guess.
Her father was a cardiologist in Boston who became famous for developing some sort of piece that attached to the arteries leading to the heart. Ashley tried to explain it to me a few times but I just pretended to understand. Actually, I had no idea what she was talking about.
So Ashley was rich, which didn’t make her different than anyone else in Fairview. Yet she and her family seemed different. On many weekends, the whole Novack family went into Dorchester to work at a food bank. I went with them a couple of times and was surprised that Dr. Novack knew some of the people that came to get food. Ashley said that her father was born in Dorchester and volunteered at the health clinic there every month.
I made fun of Ashley because it seemed that she always wanted to save something or help someone...the poor people of Boston, the kid with MS in our class who traveled in a wheel chair, the skinny dog she found in the woods behind the golf course. I wonder how she’ll feel about a boyfriend who was about to drop about seventeen rungs on the socio-economic scale. I’d find out soon enough.
“You gonna say anything at all?”
I looked up and saw Paul staring at me. “What?” I asked.
“I’ve been talking to you for five minutes now and all you’re doing is turning over those eggs. Either eat them or let’s get out of here.”
I rose from the booth and said, “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”
Paul dropped me off at St. Monica’s Church, the only Catholic parish in Fairview. I had made my First Communion, labored through CCD classes, and was eventually confirmed in the church. I had strayed away from the faith during the past couple of years...I wasn’t really sure why. My parents were never regular Mass goers and, after I entered high school, didn’t push me to go.
I’m not sure why I wanted to visit St. Monica’s...I just knew that I had to find some answers. No one around me had any so maybe God knew something.
St. Monica’s was built in the 70’s, one of those churches constructed when folk music and priests with sideburns seemed like the future. It didn’t have the feel of my grandfather’s church in Crandall. No statutes and very limited stained glass.
I blessed myself with holy water, genuflected, and knelt in the back pew.
I didn’t pray much, so I said an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Act of Contrition. Seemed like a good way to start...and I remembered all the words.
The church was empty and almost eerily quiet. I sat back, closed my eyes, and began to think about what had happened. I knew it wasn’t a dream, but I asked God anyway. Was it possible to make sense of any of this?
Some kids at school wore those WWJD wristbands. I thought of that and asked myself: what would Jesus do if he were me? I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t feel sorry for himself. I had read enough of the Gospels to know that. He wouldn’t get mad...he couldn’t, with all that talk about turning the other cheek. I chuckled to myself. Turn the other cheek. Did he really mean that?
I blessed myself and left the church. I had to make one more stop...and it wouldn't be easy.