Clair Bee is one of the few coaches whose legacy is words as
well as wins. Though his 412 career victories, achieved over 23
seasons at Rider College and Long Island University, make him
the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, Hall of Famer
Bee is remembered as much for the 23-book Chip Hilton Sports
Series that he wrote between 1948 and 1964. Out of print since
1966, the series still has a following among middle-aged males
who grew up on the white-bread, whole-milk athleticism of Chip
and his pals. I'm one of those males, and I have communicated
with hundreds of others over the last two decades.
Well, Hiltonites, there's big news: The first 12 books of the
series are available again (from Amazon.com or at independent
bookstores) with updated characters and plots, and there are
plans to rerelease all 23, plus a 24th (Fiery Fullback) from an
unpublished manuscript that Bee completed before he died in
1983. That's not necessarily good news for those Hiltonites who
wish that time would not tamper with Chip, that the mythical
Valley Falls High and State University where he spun out his
three-sport heroics would remain in their pristine states. In
fact, modernizing the series wasn't even the first choice of the
modernizers themselves, namely Bee's daughter, Cindy Farley, and
her husband, Randy, who promised Bee, before his death at age
87, that they would try to make the books available to a new
generation. "We wanted to put them out the way they were, which
was always Dad's hope," says Cindy. "But no publisher would let
us do the originals, because they thought no one would buy them."
That's probably true, but Hilton traditionalists shouldn't fret
too much. Though there will be plot changes (a buddy who fails
an NCAA-administered drug test, a bout of cancer for Chip's
beloved mother, Mary), Chip will not be walking out of the
huddle with an earring or flashing a radical tattoo as he rubs
down the ball on the mound. The Farleys, both teachers, are
conservative, as is the publisher, Broadman and Holman of
Nashville, whose list consists mostly of religious titles.
"Updating the books was a daunting task because we realize how
powerful the legacy is and we want to protect it," says Randy.
"How much should we change? How different would readers want the
stories to be? And we had in the back of our minds, always, the
thought of Clair watching over us."
Not to mention the nitpicking Hiltonites. I was only a few pages
into the rereleased version of Touchdown Pass, the first book
that Bee wrote (and the first to be revised), when the present
clanged against the past. "This isn't a football team!" shouts
Valley Falls coach Henry Rockwell, the stern but fair
disciplinarian whom Bee modeled on himself. "It's a bunch of
wimpy couch potatoes!" Ooh, didn't sound right. So I went to the
original, in which the Rock shouted, "This isn't a football
team. It's a bunch of drugstore cowboys!" I'm not sure that,
even for today's reader, "wimpy couch potatoes" sounds more
believable coming from an angry coach than "drugstore cowboys."
October 17, 1999
As I read on there was--whoa!--a big change. Speed Morris,
Chip's best buddy in high school and the only one close to
Chip's equal as an athlete, actually changed pigmentation, from
white to black. The Farleys say it had nothing to do with
political correctness and only a little to do with the need to
add diversity among the main characters. Both Farleys claim
that, as they were reading the books as youngsters, they
pictured Speed as black, even though that was not Bee's intention.
I've yet to see any of the updated college books, so I wonder if
they are more, well, adventurous than their predecessors in the
area of male-female relationships. You see, though Chip was
quite a power hitter, he never made it to first base with the
girls, not even when he was a three-sport All-America at State.
"We can tell you that he does get his first kiss," says Cindy.
"But Mitzi Savrill [a cashier at State Drug, where Chip works]
has to bring a sprig of mistletoe for it to happen."
So don't worry, you tradition-loving Hiltonites: Chip may have
an E-mail address, but his virginity appears to be securely