"Cross-country and rebellion are natural allies," writes Marc Bloom in God on the Starting Line (Breakaway Books, 240 pages, $22), an inspiring account of his season spent coaching the boys' cross-country team at tiny St. Rose High in Belmar on the New Jersey shore. "Running ... through the woods while the rest of America sleeps strikes me as a defiant, liberating act."
A longtime track writer, Bloom struggled to liberate his charges from what he terms the "mass, uniform Hollywood culture that captures young people," even as he shepherded them through a roller-coaster season toward a shot at the state championship. His book captures the sweaty satisfaction of summer runs on the boardwalk, the goofy give-and-take of kids on their first road trip, the bracing excitement of big fall meets at Holmdel Park, that muddy crucible for generations of Jersey runners. In the end it also captures the deeper joy of watching young athletes embrace the unfashionable ideals of commitment, sacrifice, courage and faith. --Richard O'Brien