It didn't take long for senior writer William Nack to find out what it meant to be a stranger in the tight-knit, troubled farm community of Glenville, Minn. "I walked into Don's Market the day after I got there, and Don Williamson, who runs the place, pulled out a phone book," Nack says. "He pointed to the names and told me that all the Williamsons were related and all the Broitzmans and all the Schillings. The whole town was related. 'This town is a family,' he said to me. 'It's like you're coming to family dinner to criticize Granny's apple cobbler.' "
In this case the cobbler was the Glenville High football team (page 78). By the time Nack got there, the team had lost 65 games in a row, and the players and their parents and the rest of the people in Glenville had become wary of the attention the team was attracting. "The kids were shying away from the press," says Glenville athletic director Wayne Olson. "They were a little embarrassed about the record." To allay their apprehensiveness, Nack asked Olson to gather the athletes in the school auditorium. "I told them I was not there to find out why they were losing," Nack says. "I was there to see how the town was reacting to their losing."
Two football games later, Nack had met almost everyone in Glenville. He went hunting with running back Neal Schilling and learned from end Ranger Hall that music calms a cow while she's being milked.
The learning process wasn't one-sided; Nack managed to share his passion—chess—with the young Glenvillians. In a psychology class he told them about the self-destructive nature of Bobby Fischer, whom Nack had trailed for several weeks (SI, July 29). Later in the week, 12 of the players met with Nack at the Olsons' house for a lesson in chess; after he left, Nack sent five chess sets to the school. Olson says, "He taught these kids a lifetime game—a game they'll play long after they've stopped playing football."
November 4, 1985
Nack, in turn, was touched by the grit of the town's adults and students in the face of economic hardship. "I asked Ranger Hall if he minds getting up at 5:30 every morning to milk the cows," says Nack. "He told me if he didn't do it, his dad would have to. His father already has two jobs and works 17 hours a day. His mother has three jobs and works 16 hours."
At that meeting in the school auditorium, Nack told the players that he hoped they would learn something about themselves and their town from the perspective of an outsider. "Bill reflected back to the kids that there's something positive here. It's pride," says Olson. "Bill Nack made them feel good about themselves."