Michael D’Orso’s Eagle Blue is a personal recount of a northern Alaskan high school basketball team’s journey through its season. The two prevailing themes throughout the book are overcoming adversity, and community pride. D’Orso is there to follow the team on and off the court for an entire four month season from late 2004 to early 2005. He saw the hardships that every team faces, such as alcohol and drug addiction, along with challenges that are exclusive to a geographically isolated team. The village rallies behind its team in support and has high hopes of winning a state title.
D’Orso tells us about the struggles of the basketball team and the community. Each year, Fort Yukon can barely fill its roster due to extremely low enrollment, which then leads to eligibility issues. I feel that D’Orso does an adequate job stressing the importance of this by noting that if even one or two kids are failing their classes or get caught with drugs or alcohol, the team may have to forfeit their next game or set of games. A player could also miss up to four games in a week due to week long road trips. Dave Bridges, coach of the Eagles, overcomes this by setting up a tutoring and support program for his struggling players. Depression is also a major concern for a lot of people during winter in northern Alaska due to the lack of sunlight. Basketball season gives them something to look forward to and stay upbeat about. Despite all of these problems, the basketball boys stay focused on their goal of winning a state championship.
Basketball is what truly keeps Fort Yukon going, and D’Orso conveys this message by giving several examples of how the community rallies around their team. Through the dark winter months with constant subzero temperatures, basketball games are the main events to attend. The team has had great success in recent years, as they’ve won six regional championships in a row. Each and every home game, the bleachers are packed with raving fans. Even though away games can only be reached by plane or snowmobile, Eagle fans make an effort to follow their team from town to town. The community members also realize that it is very expensive to run the basketball program, and nearly everyone has donated money to keep the program alive through fundraisers. In my eyes, these are people who truly care about their team and are part of a very tight knit community. The players themselves bond closely with one another. This is especially shown during their road trips where they are constantly laughing and telling stories with each other. The players also feel pressure from the community to be as good as previous Fort Yukon teams, but they perform well under that pressure and quiet the few doubters along the way. Basketball is vital for the small village and raises the spirits of nearly everyone through the long, dark winter.
I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever played or watched basketball. It is a great story of how a high school basketball team overcomes adversity with help from its community and becomes very successful. D’Orso was able to paint a great picture of Fort Yukon’s natives. Nothing is more important to them then their basketball team, and they have a ton of pride roaring inside of them. This book broadens the reader’s horizon and opens him or her up to a way of life that he or she may not be aware of. In a remote village like Fort Yukon, there are few parallels to mainstream America, but the reader will find certain similarities that his or her community shares in common. Eagle Blue is truly an uplifting story, and I highly recommend it to both students and adults.