Cover of book, showing a black basketball player leaping toward a basket while a white player watches, mouth open in surprise.“On Sunday, March 12, 1944, at eleven in the morning, when most people were still at church, a group of basketball players who thought they were the best in the state of North Carolina piled into two cars. The members of the Duke University medical School team knew they were playing a game, but they didn’t all know where they were going or who their opponent would be.”

I’m not even a basketball fan, but the opening of this book gripped me, and the suspense-filled writing kept me turning pages. It tells the true story of the first desegregated intercollegiate basketball game. It was unofficial and was kept secret for years–even a newspaper reporter who learned of it sat on the news–because announcing it would have meant, at best, arrest for the two coaches, who were flaunting North Carolina’s laws against “race-mixing” or, at worst, a lynching from the Ku Klux Klan.

In this book we sneak into the gym with the ball players and watch their game. The white players, who had a nearly perfect record going into this game, came to admire the skill of the black players, who represented an entirely new style of play–aggressive, fast, and physical. When the official game was over, the players, still giddy over the game, decided to play a second, pick-up game, where they mixed the two teams and played Shirts vs. Skins. And when that game was over, the black players invited the white players into their homes for an afternoon of socializing.

The art in the book is mostly in blues and yellows. the drawings (charcoal?) are vivid and active.

I’d never heard of this secret game before I read this book. I’m thrilled to share the story of it with my kids.

Check out this video of an elderly John McLendon talking about basketball and its founder.

Game Changer: John McLendon and the Secret Game by John Coy, illustrated by Randy DuBurke. (Carolrhoda: 2015)