After deciding to pursue the answer to the mystery locked deep within the pages of Scott Ellsworth's "The Secret Game", the reader will quickly become impressed by the obvious extensive and exhaustive effort that is committed to this writer's research. The story focuses on a single college basketball game that is played behind closed, locked doors and in secret on the campus of the North Carolina College for Negroes in the 1940's. However, Ellsworth's effort to tell the story behind the "Secret Game" goes well beyond the scope of its title and provides the reader with a deep and meaningful image of modern American society at that time, in the Deep South.
Early on Ellsworth examines the roots of basketball, the contributions of its inventor Dr. James Naismith and its evolution on a national and international level. As the sport evolves the author forces the reader to come to grips with the deeply rooted racial issues that divide America throughout most of the 20th Century. Here again we see the painful yet accurate portrayal of a sport where elite black athletes are denied the opportunity to compete against the elite white athletes, due to rigid cultural beliefs and traditions. Beliefs and traditions where a segregated society endures due to values that are deeply entrenched in the Deep South and are passed down in families from one generation to the next. While this mindset was prohibitive and was bound to stir various emotions within the reader, the author goes to great lengths not to justify segregation but to represent its origins and the maintenance of these southern traditions fairly.
Ellsworth's presentation of the men attending Duke University and the North Carolina College For Negroes (the participants in "The Secret Game") is comprehensive. We learn about their lives prior to their arrival at their respective schools, while in attendance there and then beyond the years that follow their departure from their schools. We learn of extraordinary and interesting individuals who come from vastly different cultural and economic backgrounds and gain a clear perspective of how their economic and social statuses assist them, or limit them as they evolve throughout the story.
While racial discrimination continues to permeate Southern society at this time, Ellsworth introduces us to various people who possess great courage and actively seek to change existing racial attitudes and segregationist traditions. Bravely, these changes are sought by people who have experienced forms of racial and ethnic discrimination of their own, despite intimidating efforts to stop them. As these efforts continue successfully, hope is created that eventually barriers can be broken down socially and in athletics. Perhaps eventually the gym will provide the setting where the best can compete against the best despite the racial status of the opposition.
As the book moves toward conclusion with the commencement of the " Secret Game" the reader must marvel at the expansive efforts of this author to tell this. story and to tell it well. A story that tells a of an historic yet unlikely athletic contest, while weaving in the social issues of the time. Once again here the reader is reminded of the author's desire not only to tell the entire story, but do so in an accurate and fair manner. For this he is to be commended.
The reading of " The Secret Game" is a most worthy pursuit for those readers who have a passion for American social history, basketball or those who just want to read a good story masterfully told by a masterful story teller. We are fortunate that Scott Ellsworth was committed to learning and then telling this compelling story.