When Dr. Greg Selber finished “Border Ball” this summer, he solved how to find a wonderful gift for birthdays and Christmas.
His subtitle, “The History of High School Football in the Rio Grande Valley,” rings entirely true.
The work of his masterpiece seems to me the most interesting and readable sports book in South Texas history. And it is all documented as true.
Having reviewed many books of various kinds in the past 50-plus years, I believe this one ranks in the top 10 in uniqueness. It also ranks No. 1 in spell-binding. I read all 430 pages within three days and nights. More than 100 names of sports people I knew jump off the pages. Memories of them sparkled. Many are quoted, many deceased. They still laugh and live on the printed page.
Selber grew up in Austin and is a sports writer as well as an academic. He solves the problems of time, covering nearly a century, and statistics, which are traditionally dry to read about. His enthusiasm and generous style make this book highly readable as it reveals unexpected details.
“The work is a hybrid of straight historical chronicle and oral history, focusing on particular seasons and players of note, but also spending copious amounts of space letting the principals tell their stories,” he writes.
“Within these pages, one will learn about the confluences of sports and race relations, especially in the 1950s, when many of the great coaches of recent decades came of age in a segregated region not untouched by racism and intolerance,” he notes.
“My wish is that readers learn more about their teams and cities than they knew before “Border Ball,” encompasses a project I have been hacking away at for 20 years now. There are some cities with less representation than others, and recent history has been given relatively short shrift in favor of more ancient stories,” he added.
Yet his fairness seems exceptional, giving every city some of its due. His longer “interludes” as he calls them, single out individuals. His longer stories are of stars who deserve it.
Tom Landry of Mission is headlined as “The Greatest Valley Legend.” George Strohmeyer of McAllen was “The First All-American.” Luz Pedraza quarterbacked Donna to the only Valley state championship, then became a “Semi-pro Superstar.” Carlos Esquivel’s speed carried Edinburg within a game of the state finals. They remain great symbols with great samples of the Valley past.
Bobby Lackey of Weslaco earned a special story title, “Valley Proud on the Big Stage.” Every fan has a limited history of his or her heroes.
This book has something for most helmeted heroes who starred memorably in Valley history for most of the 20th Century and the start of the 21st. Of course there were some great ones missed, in all those years. Yet anyone who reads this new classic will learn from it and admire the depth of information and photos that are packed in this book. Once you start reading it, you are likely to be hooked into a football heaven, including facts of Valley lads who made it big at many major universities, and many to the National Football League as well.
Selber deserves a prize for his deep tracking of facts for those 20 years he spent on it. His best reward probably will be for the hundreds, and hopefully thousands, who read it. Every Valley library, and high school, ought to buy at least two copies of it.
The last and longest story covers a full 30 pages. All are about Mishak Rivas, titled The Face of Valley Football. This reads like a long classic story in Sports Illustrated. Rivas set miraculous records for 3,300 yards, 47 touchdowns and 431 yards in a game back in 2007.
This surperb sports book costs $42 per copy, but it is well worth it to any Valley football fan, plus all the hundreds of stars who shine in it.