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Autumn 1944: For the folks of Brownwood, Texas, the only thing more important than winning the war is...Football!

It's a man's game, until now...

Football is the heartbeat of Brownwood, Texas.  Every Friday night for as long as assistant principal Tylene Wilson can remember, the entire town has gathered in the stands, cheering their boys on.  Each September brings with it hope of a good season and a sense of unity and optimism.


Now the war has changed everything.  Most of the Brownwood men over eighteen and under forty-five are off fighting, and in a small town the possibilities for a new team coach are limited.  Could this mean a season without football? But no one counted on Tylene, who learned the game at her daddy's knee.  She knows more about it than most men, so she does the unthinkable, convincing the school to let her take on the job of coach.


Faced with extreme opposition--by the press, the community, rival coaches, and referees, and even the players themselves--Tylene remains resolute.  And when her boys rally around her, she leads the team--and the town--to a Friday night and subsequent season they will never forget.


Based on a true story, When the Men Were Gone is a powerful and vibrant novel of perseverance and personal courage.

Excerpts From "When The Men Were Gone"

“Clearly, you have nothing to be afraid of, Tylene. You know kids. Heck, you were the middle-school English teacher for a few of them back in the day, and they loved you. They know you love football. Did you ever miss any of their middle school games? They respect you. They listen to you. They admire you. What’s the problem?”


“The dress?” I asked. He chuckled. “And the pearls, Tylene. Don’t forget the pearls.” Then he smiled.


“Nothing that we can’t handle, Tylene” he said. “You’ve been preparing for this moment since your father first tossed a football your way. Your father loved you enough to change his life. These boys are your kids. Can you love them enough, too?”


* * * * *


I went on to tell the boys about my father-daughter nights and how my father had taught me everything I knew and appreciated about the game.


“There’s something special about Texas football,” I said. “I truly believe that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at a Texas sunset only to see a goalpost cut through the yellow and red splashed across the sky. Can’t say that I figured I’d coach it someday, but I promise you, boys, I’ll give you all I’ve got.”


* * * * *


I realized how much it meant to me to pass along to my child what my father had passed along to me. Football, and its joys, was supposed to be my family legacy – at least, that was my dream.


I put my pencil down and began to relive my cherished but brief moments with my only child, a son born prematurely who lived long enough for me to embrace him. But just once. He died in my arms, the arms I then looked down at, the arms that once held him so tightly – when I knew he was slipping away and I could do nothing to prevent it. So that night, I cradled my empty arms to my chest, bowed my head, and whispered: This is for you.

Author Q&A

 

How do you think Tylene's story would be different if she were living today?


"She was far ahead of her time.  What I do think would be different today in regard to her coaching football is that Tylene would find this generation of young men more open to women in football than they were seventy years ago.  My experience has told me that because Tylene knew her stuff, the young men would be eager to learn from her and play for her.  I truly believe that with women coming up the ranks in football, we will see a shift in their role -- not only on the field but in the media as well."


How do you think Tylene was a unique woman to her time?


"Tylene was such a unique woman in her time that had she not been, she could not have been prepared to deal with the circumstances she faced.  "She had spent her life preparing for that moment--she just didn't know it.  She also married a man who knew she was different--pursuing a master's degree at night and during summers, all the while staying devoted to her students.  And what an arm! She could throw a football--and a baseball--with the best of them."


In what ways does Tylene's marriage to John compare to marriages today?


"Their marriage reminds me a lot of mine.  What's different is that my husband helps out with the household chores.  Full disclosure: He handles most of them.  John did not.  But that wasn't on men's radar in the 1940s.  John never went to college.  He worked on cars.  It's hard to imagine that he'd come home and fix dinner while his wife was off coaching a football team.  It just wouldn't have happened then.  But he was so supportive that he was willing to risk his own livelihood just to support her journey.  He dearly loved Tylene."

Photo by Shane Bevel

Photo by Shane Bevel