Book Bag: ‘Games of Deception’ by Andrew Maraniss; ‘Kids Have All the Write Stuff’ by three UMass Amherst educators

Published: 12/5/2019 5:31:09 PM

By Steve Pfarrer


By Andrew Maraniss

Philomel Books

In his new book, Andrew Maraniss offers a compelling historical snapshot of a game that’s become hugely popular worldwide — and of a controversial Olympics, the first to host basketball as a competitive sport, that was marked by racism, anti-Semitism and propaganda that foreshadowed the world’s most destructive war.

“Games of Deception” moves from the invention of basketball in Springfield, Mass., in 1891 to the appearance of the first U.S. Olympic basketball team, at the summer games in Berlin in 1936, when the Nazi regime led by Adolph Hitler worked hard to use the Olympics for propaganda value, presenting Germany as a clean, modern country, not the brutal dictatorship portrayed by its critics.

Maraniss is the author of “Strong Inside,” a 2014 biography of Perry Wallace, the first black college basketball player to win a scholarship and play in the Southeastern Conference (at Vanderbilt University in the 1960s, during the height of the Civil Rights movement). That book won acclaim for digging deep into a somewhat forgotten story, and initial reviews of “Games of Deception” have also praised the book’s mix of sports and social/historical reporting.

As Maraniss writes, basketball became wildly popular in the years after James Naismith, a teacher at the International YMCA Training School in Springfield, first developed the game in late 1891, seeing it as a healthy new sport for young men at the school to keep busy with during winter. As graduates from the academy took jobs around the world, they brought basketball with them, and demonstration games were played at some Olympics in the early 20th century before the sport made its official debut at the 1936 games.

But participating in the Berlin Olympics was a fraught issue for some Americans. Jewish groups and others urged the U.S. to boycott the games because of the Nazis’ virulent anti-Semitic laws. The threat of an American boycott was of huge concern to Nazi leaders, and Maraniss writes that they worked closely with some allies in the U.S., such as Avery Brundage, the president of the American Olympic Committee and a former Olympian — and a confirmed anti-Semite, too — to make sure American athletes and tourists came to Berlin. (Among the 14 men — all white — on the U.S. basketball team was one Jewish player, Sam Balter.)

“Games of Deception” also re-examines the racism so prevalent in 1930s America, when lynchings of African Americans were still regular events. Black athletes had to decide if participating in the Olympics would in a sense endorse their own country’s racism, or if a winning performance in Berlin might instead foster black pride and repudiate the Nazis’ own claim of “Aryan” racial superiority. Eighteen black U.S. athletes eventually went to Berlin, including star runner Jesse Owens, who won four Gold medals.

Basketball was a strange sideshow at the 1936 games, Maraniss notes. The Nazis had built a huge, 110,000-seat stadium to host most events, but they consigned basketball to outdoor clay tennis courts, which turned to soup when a number of the games (played before sparse crowds) were held in pouring rain, including the first Gold medal game ever, the U.S. vs. Canada. The Americans won by a score of just 19-8.

Some other fun facts: James Naismith, by then almost 75, traveled to Berlin in 1936 to watch his creation debut in the Olympics. Also, half of the U.S. basketball squad worked at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, while the other half worked in an oil refinery in Kansas.

The author adds a fascinating footnote to the story, an account of how 10 leading Nazis were hanged for war crimes in Nuremberg in October 1946 after World War II. They were executed on an improvised gallows erected in a gymnasium that American occupying troops normally used for one of their favorite games. As Maraniss writes, “Olympic basketball was born in Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany died on a basketball court.”


By Sharon A. Edwards, Robert W. Maloy, and Torrey Trust

University of Massachusetts Press

Children can gain entry to a wide world of imagination and creativity by learning to express themselves in writing. So wrote educators Sharon A. Edwards and Robert W. Maloy in “Kids have All the Write Stuff,” a 1992 book they co-authored and have now updated for the digital age in a a new edition of the book, published by University of Massachusetts press.

Edwards and Maloy are both lecturers in education at UMass Amherst, and a third contributor to the new edition, Torrey Trust, is an assistant professor of learning technology at the school.

The authors note that personal home computers were still rare in 1992, while “smartphones existed solely in science fiction books and movies.” But with the growth of digital and wireless technology, they write, children now learn to write not just with pencils and crayons but through learning how to use computers, tablets and smartphones.

Their updated book offers new ideas and resources for helping children learn how to write in a variety of styles — from fiction and nonfiction to comics and diaries, to blogs, tweets and even videos — and to find ways for young writers to integrate digital tools like websites and educational apps into their work to “enable children to become creators with, and not just consumers of, digital technologies.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at


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