Monday, March 30, 2020

"We Will Rise: A True Story of Tragedy and Resurrection in the American Heartland" - Steve Beaven

I eagerly anticipated reading Steve Beaven's "We Will Rise: A True Story of Tragedy and Resurrection in the American Heartland," a book that remembers the December 13, 1977 plane crash that took the lives of the entire University of Evansville basketball team along with coaches, boosters, and everyone else on the plane. In fact, the lone player to not be on that plane would actually die a mere two weeks later in a car crash.

It was and remains a tragedy that has a permanent place in the Indiana consciousness, especially for those of us, myself included, who had any connection at all to that particular basketball team.

While I did not have a direct connection to the tragedy, my indirect connection was strong as I was in the same class as UE basketball player Mark Siegel. Additionally, Siegel's father, Ed Siegel, was a beloved Pike High School teacher and basketball coach. I would graduate from Pike in 1983. As was true for most Pike students, we felt this tragedy in our bones.

Beaven's book is a competent, though often quite scattered, account of the tragedy though the book devotes surprisingly little time to the tragedy itself. A good amount of the early part of the book is devoted to the years leading up to the tragedy, while Beaven does serve up quite a bit of information about the Dick Walters years that followed and began, I believe, in late 1978.

In terms of the tragedy itself, it seems like Beaven did what most sports books do - he devoted most of the material to the team's stars while offering very little information about the bit players. There's a sliver of a chapter about Mark Siegel, mostly an accurate accounting of the impact on Mark's death on his father. However, it's a surprisingly abrupt chapter lacking anything resembling nuance.

I also found Beaven's back-and-forth approach to the stories distracting. "We Will Rise" often lacks a cohesiveness that allows you to emotionally invest in a story that absolutely should lead to your emotional investment. While the direct chapters around the plane crash are involving, most of the closing chapters aren't much more than your usual sports reporting. At times, it actually feels rather disrespectful.

I wanted to truly love "We Will Rise," but I simply had trouble engaging with the book and can't help but feel like it's a missed opportunity to create a truly gripping tale of a tremendous tragedy that many people don't even know about or know very little about. Beaven has crafted a competent account, but it's a disappointingly uneven one that never quite connects as much as it should.

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