The loamy black "muck" around Belle Glade, Florida once built an empire for Big Sugar and provided much of the nation's vegetables, often on the backs of destitute migrants. Today, forty-five miles from the mansions of Palm Beach, it is one of the poorest places in America, a town once labeled the "AIDS Capital of the World" and so removed from modern society that some families resort to catching rainwater to survive. Yet for years it has helped fuel one of the country's most commercial and lucrative dream machines. In addition to sugar and vegetables, the muck is most distinct for producing raw, explosive football talent.
Belle Glade's high school team, the Glades Central Raiders, has sent an extraordinary number of players to the National Football League--30 since 1985, with five of those drafted in the first round. Football was the sport of Belle Glade's roving migrants, who honed their speed and agility in vegetable rows across America. Now in a town where the footprint of Big Sugar has helped lead to chronic unemployment, where gunfire crackles and the threat of death or prison follows each boy like a toxic cloud, football has become one of the only ways out. MUCK CITY tells the story of quarterback Mario Rowley, an orphan whose dream is to win a championship for his deceased parents and quiet the ghosts that haunt him; Kelvin Benjamin, "the beautiful freak," a six foot six receiver caught in the intoxicating atmosphere of today's college recruiting ("Definitely a first rounder," the recruiters promise. "Right now, if they'll let you"); head coach Hester, a former migrant and Belle Glade's first superstar, who returns home to "win kids, not championships;" and Jonteria Willliams, an ambitious student who must build her dream of becoming a doctor in the state's poorest high school. For boys like Mario and KB, being a Raider is a one-shot opportunity for a better life and college education. Without football, Jonteria and the rest must make it on brains and fortitude alone. For the coach, good intentions must battle a town's obsession to win above all else.
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About the author
Bryan Mealer is the author of Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football's Forgotten Town and the New York Times bestseller The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, which he wrote with William Kamkwamba, in addition to the children's book of the same title. He's also the author of All Things Must Fight to Live, which chronicled his years covering the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo for Harper's and the Associated Press. His work has appeared in the anthology Best American Travel Writing and was chosen for an Overseas Press Club Award Citation. He and his family live in Austin, Texas.