Reviews > Culture

Chips off the old block

Culture | Clair Beeås legacy survives intact, and the updated sports-fiction series has a more evident Christian emphasis

Issue: "Supreme warning," July 5, 2003

Behind three points with less than 30 seconds in the game, Chip Hilton steals the ball, makes a layup, and prepares for another steal in an effort to lead Valley Falls to another upset victory.

Readers of the 24-book Chip Hilton sports series years ago may remember such twists and turns as well as the names of his teammates Biggie Cohen and Speed Morris. But the series is making another kind of comeback for young teen readers, as Broadman & Holman republishes books that captured the hearts and minds of readers in the 1950s and early 1960s. This time the series comes with a more evident Christian emphasis, thanks to revisions provided by Cindy and Randy Farley, daughter and son-in-law of original author Clair Bee, longtime basketball coach at Long Island University.

Hero Chip Hilton now has a computer and watches ESPN, but he still places integrity ahead of winning and sacrifices his own success and comfort for his team and his friends. When Chip is wronged by bad guys and jealous teammates, he learns how not to lash back. If he has to fight to defend himself, he will, but as a last resort. Chip honors his mother-his father died when he was young-and visits her when he goes off to college in the later books in the series. Direct Bible references are rare, but Scripture themes and principles permeate the series.

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Young readers often get deeply interested in Chip Hilton plots, which are like those of the Hardy Boys but with one key difference: Instead of solving crimes, Chip and his friends try to win games, earn money, stay in school, and help their families in hard times. The reader can guess that Chip Hilton will get through the challenges, but the suspense is in how will he make it all happen by the end of the book.

Since the books have been out of print so long, what explains the current revival? Certainly the general moral climate of the United States would not seem to promote the values of Chip Hilton in comparison with those of author Judy Blume or with the moral relativism that dominates much of American education. But some parents are looking for something that shows how character does make a difference, and that wrongdoing has severe consequences.

The story of original author Clair Bee himself is provocative. Texas Tech Coach Bobby Knight found him to be a mentor. Knight was coaching at West Point and Bee was the athletics director at the nearby New York Military Academy. Bee was so highly respected and the Chip Hilton books so loved that the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., gives out awards in their names each year for the outstanding coach and player of the year.

But Bee also had his sorrows. Some of his top players were implicated in a major point-fixing scheme that affected a number of top college programs in the late 1940s and earlier 1950s. Several players wound up in prison and were kicked out of the game for taking the bribes. Though Bee was not responsible for the scandal and was not directly blamed for it, he quit coaching. In the Chip Hilton tradition of accepting personal responsibility, he said he had pushed some of his players too hard.

The scandal raised a warning cry against sports betting and created a consensus that no one involved with college sports should be involved in gambling. That's a reason why University of Washington football coach Rick Neuheisel, who bet on NCAA basketball games, was fired last month. Clair Bee's legacy remains.

Russ Pulliam
Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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