My Losing Season


Pat Conroy


Non Fiction


Date Reviewed:

March 29, 2006

his is an autobiographical story of Pat Conroy's senior year on the basketball team of the Citadel. It is also the story of his relationship with two men, his father and his coach. Unfortunately, both men have no redeeming virtues. They are cruel, violent, intimidating, and stupid. There is nothing positive that can be said about them.

Pat Conroy is at the Citadel in the late 1960s, he attends on a basketball scholarship. Though he is shorter and not as talented as his teammates, Conroy ends up starting a lot of the games for a team that plays far below its potential. Why does it play so poorly? The coach is horrible. He never subs in his players (not even in a four overtime game), he never changes the offense - Conroy calls the bench warmers the Green Weenies, and for he rode the pine until his senior year. But in practice, the Green Weenies usually defeated the more talented starters in games. Why? Because the assistant coach scouts the offense of the next team on the Citadel's schedule, and then has the bench warmers run that offense against the starters. The starters are never prepared for these innovated offenses, while the subs know exactly what offense the starters are going to run, because they always do the same thing. Doesn't anyone notice that if the subs can beat the starters because they always run the same offense, that perhaps the other teams may also have scouted the Citadel and they also will be able to predict entirely what Citadel will run? The Citadel always plays a man to man defense, and that never changes. No matchup zones, no box and one, no full court press. In fact, the coaches don't even assign the man to man matchups, apparently Pat Conroy simply always takes the best scoring guard on the other team, no matter how much shorter and slower he may be. None of the players know who will start in a given game, some players find themselves anchored to the bench for entire games for no apparent reason. The head coach is a foul mouth screamer, who never seems to actually instruct his players how to play the game, merely exhorting them to play harder by questioning their manhood. Conroy several times describes how his teammates are broken by Mel Thompson (the head coach), how they are dispirited and listless. Several have great potential to be great basketball players, but Thompson does nothing to develop their talents, and the Citadel loses to plenty of teams that it should not, though Conroy is delighted he is getting playing time. In the end, we learn that Conroy is starting because the more talented guard, Tee Hooper, has been benched because of a false rumor someone told the coach.

Conroy seems better able than his teammates to endure coach Thompson's taunts and tirades because the coach is a pussycat compared to Conroy's father. Conroy's dad is a marine, a sadist, who violently beats his wife and all seven children. Conroy says his first memory as a child is sitting in a high chair while his father pummels his mother. Every description of Conroy's dad is incredibly negative. Conroy uses his father as a model for his book The Great Santini, but says he had to tone down the bad elements, because no one would believe how awful his dad truly is, the Great Santini is a much gentler portrait than the man really was. I am surprised that no one in the family ever ambushes the dad with a baseball bat. When they get older and stronger, why not pound that man into a pulp? Break his knees, crushes the bones in his hands, ruin his life? Why not payback? At the end, Conroy describes his dying father as a slightly mellower individual, the publication of the Great Santini apparently made him tone down his behavior, so he acts more like the character in the book (Conroy implies the father has some slight postive virtues at this point, as he mellows in his old age.) I can not comprehend why Conroy would ever talk to his father again, why Conroy doesn't try to rescue any of his younger siblings (Pat is the eldest of the seven) once he gets old enough and strong enough to stand up to his dad.

Conroy seems to think there is some merit in his senior year, that losing teaches him about life, that winning is easy, but real life is about losing. Well, there are lessons to be learned in losing, but why sabotage your life just so become a loser? What if the coach had been a good man, with a character that allowed him to develop his players? The players could have been molded into a real team, they would have achieved the best that they could have - who knows how far they might have gone? It is sad that Conroy at the end relates that not one of his teammates attends the wedding of any of the other players, in other words, no friendships were developed, each man was an island in a cauldron of ferocity and fear. In the book, Conroy will describe his teammates as a good shooter or a fierce rebounder, but never does reveal them as people, they are teammates, but not people he knows. How could he spend so much time with these other boys and not bond with any of them? Maybe it is due to his sad childhood. Ultimately, this is a horrible, depressing story to read, because it is about wasted human potential, wasted lives. Human behavior is at its worst in this book. You only get on lifetime, one boyhood, one college experience. To have those years destroyed by cruel men, what is the merit in that? I haven't mentioned Conroy's description of life at the Citadel - what a horrible place. Everything in this book is unrelentingly bleak. Conroy meets horrible people, he is unable to develop friends or positive relationships - no wonder he describes his later life to wracked with depression, divorce and thoughts of suicide. If you want a real downer of a story, if you want to all about how vicious humans can be toward each other, this is the book for you. Its enough to make you a misanthrope. I have not read The Great Santini (which is a fictionalized story of his evil father) nor The Lords of Discipline (which is a fictionalized story of his life at the Citadel) and now I have no intention of reading them - I believe I already heard those stories from Conroy, and I don't like what I heard. This is a downer of a book.