From the Desk of John Dechant: A Simpler Time
The following is a post from John Dechant, author of Scoreless: Omaha Central, Creighton Prep, and Nebraska’s Greatest High School Football Game (Bison Books, 2016). Dechant is the author of nine books and coauthor of Truth and Other Tall Tales. His writing has also appeared in a variety of Nebraska magazines.
It’s often said you can’t choose your parents—that’s true. For the same reason, you also can’t choose when you’re born. I have no complaints about the former. As for the latter, sometimes I wish I was a child of the baby boom.
When I set out writing Scoreless: Omaha Central, Creighton Prep, and Nebraska’s Greatest High School Football Game, I knew that I had all the key ingredients of a great story. Even more, a great sports story.
I had action, intrigue, colorful characters, a few humorous hooks, and even a small dose of tragedy to keep the story real. I decided on a title before I’d even written a sentence. Sure, I kicked around a few other possibilities, but I always kept coming back to Scoreless. It said everything.
As I started to write, my greatest challenge was capturing the era my story was set in—namely, the year 1960. It was also the most fun part of my work.
The key events in my book occurred more than two decades before I was born, and I knew my writing would sink or swim based on my ability to produce an authentic story. I needed my readers to truly believe that I was a spectator in Municipal Stadium that night in 1960, sandwiched in the crowd of 15,000, watching the greatest high school football game ever played, maybe anywhere.
I gained a sense of the stadium atmosphere that night by talking to people who were actually there. Fortunately, enough souls who saw the game are still around, and they were a huge help. On the rare occasion when first-person accounts of events that night varied significantly, I employed one of two strategies: 1) write both versions of events (and let the reader decide) or 2) write what I believe is the most likely scenario, based on the preponderance of information I had gathered.
As I interviewed subjects for my book, I took care to ask all the right questions. What was it like being a high-schooler in the 1960s? Who’d you vote for, Kennedy or Nixon? Did you ever see any bookies outside the gates at Ak-Sar-Ben?
Did you ever handle bets for the bookies that hung around Ak-Sar-Ben?
You get the picture.
I took equal care in my research. I scavenged high school yearbooks, read through old newspapers, studied city directories, and even visited cemeteries. The stuff I found was fascinating. (One personal favorite was a news article about one of the first mothers to give birth in an iron lung.)
Slowly, I gained a better understanding of the era. I began to realize how much simpler life was in 1960 than it is now. Then I became jealous.
Why couldn’t I have been born into a simpler time? Maybe someone will say the same thing of my generation sixty years from now.
With no cellphones, people were often out of contact for longer periods of time than is customary today. Yet, nobody seemed to worry about it, and everyone managed just fine. I also noticed that life was simpler for children than it is now: fewer youth sporting events, less digital entertainment, and fewer schools to choose from.
Yet, for all these differences, there were some similarities. When I came across 1960 movie listings while scanning through a newspaper, my eyes were drawn to advertisements for Psycho and Ocean’s 11, which both premiered that year. I’m a big fan of both movies (yes, I have seen the original Ocean’s 11, multiple times), and somehow this helped connect me to that era. I even mentioned these films briefly in the book. It might seem like an odd (even throwaway) detail to a reader, but to me it was a connection to my story—to the era.
As a product of a parochial high school, it would have been easy for me to slant my narrative toward Creighton Prep and overlook Omaha Central. This was a fact I was constantly aware of during my writing. However, I had also attended a public grade school, so I felt my background provided an ideal blend to understand both environments. I came away from the project with an even greater appreciation for both schools than when I started. If you attended Prep or Central during the 1950s or 60s, consider yourself lucky. What a time to be alive.