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‘Rhythm Boys’ Recounts A Sporting Struggle

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central: High School Basketball and the ’68 Racial Divide
Steve Marantz
University of Nebraska Press (March 2011)

The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central is a recounting of a season. A high school basketball season, but also a season of racial discrimination, a season for the high school athletes at Omaha Central in Nebraska in learning about life.

And the life The Rhythm Boys, the nickname for the all-black starting five on the boys varsity basketball team, grew to learn about wasn’t always cheery and accepting. In fact, it was the exact opposite.

The book by Steve Marantz, who also attended Omaha Central during this time, mainly focuses on star player Dwaine Dillard but expounds to give a detailed account of what high school life and life for the city of Omaha, Neb. was like in 1968.

Though Marantz tells this account with a first-person perspective, it never seems that way to the reader unless he blatantly puts himself in the account. His writing is fluid, descriptive and surprisingly impartial for someone who lived through the experience. Marantz blends sports and the culture of the time seamlessly.

Sports, in a lot of cases, exemplify the culture at the time. They tend to be a landscape for which the culture bares itself, as was the case in 1968. Marantz mentions, though doesn’t go into intense detail, about Dillard getting kicked out of school postseason for behaviors exhibited during the season. Why did the administration not see fit to expel him before? Well, because they were winning games.

Race relations between the students are even mirrored by the success of sport. Prior to the championship and during the basketball season, the starters were stars, and ran the halls acting as such, mingling with white girls and accepted at the affluent Jewish communities of classmates; postseason, a tension rose that alienated the black students and made it difficult for them to excel socially and in the classroom.

The excellent way Marantz tells this story never makes these proclamations boldly, but presents the facts and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. Marantz walks the reader through the school year, through all the events and day-to-day happenings of the students to paint a true picture of what life was like for the students and athletes at Omaha Central. A changing of seasons from friendship to acceptance to distrust and divide.

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