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It can be very difficult to tell two stories in one book, especially in a work of nonfiction, but this is something Jael Richardson does masterfully in her debut book The Stone Thrower. In this beautifully written memoir, Jael sets out on a path of discovery to find out how her father, football legend Chuck Ealey Jr., became one of the best quarterbacks in history and why he chose to end his illustrious career. While conducting this exploration of her father’s life, she also explores her own life and what it was like to grow up as a young Black woman in Canada. Even though this book is a tale of two stories, there are common themes that feature prominently in both.
Resilience, true grit, and determination are key components of this book and they are also traits that teachers attempt to instill in their students; which is why it is such an excellent resource and educational tool in multiple curricular areas. Physical Education, History, English, and Global Studies courses could all use this book as it covers the sport of football, provides historical context of the civil rights movement, and looks at race and racism as well as social justice and equity in a way that is understandable and relatable to teenagers.
This incredible story begins with Jael travelling with her father to his hometown, where, through interviews, discussions and research, Jael begins to find the answers to her questions about her father’s life that she had been searching for. At the age of thirty and despite having a good relationship with her father, Jael realized that she knew very little about her father’s early life and it was important to her to learn about where he came from and how his sports career unfolded. Being a very humble man, Chuck Ealey never bragged to his children, friends, or family about his accomplishments and rarely spoke about his past. Jael knew that she was going to have to do some digging to find the answers that the sought due to her father’s quiet and stoic nature. This book covers, in detail, her father’s past, as well as her own and how their experiences shaped them into the people that they have become today.
The reason why this memoir is so engaging and would appeal to a teenage audience, is the wide variety of topics that it covers. This story, is, in part, a sports story. The title The Stone Thrower comes from the fact that Chuck, when he was younger, threw rocks at passing trains. His stone-throwing abilities in childhood allowed him as a teenage quarterback to hit his targets with incredible accuracy. Like all exceptional athletes, he put a significant amount of time and effort into perfecting his craft, despite growing up in difficult and challenging circumstances.
Some of those challenges stemmed from the fact that during the time that Chuck was pursuing a career in football, Black quarterbacks were deemed to not be intelligent enough to play that position in the NFL. Given the fact that Chuck was undefeated during his entire high school career at Notre Dame High School in Portsmouth Ohio and when he was at the University of Toledo, he should have been heavily recruited by the NFL as a quarterback, but racist ideology prevented that from happening. Chuck was offered other positions in the NFL but not the quarterback position he wanted and deserved and he refused to settle for anything less than being a quarterback. The CFL held no such reservations, and Chuck ended up in Canada, playing quarterback for the Hamilton Ti-Cats and leading them to a Grey Cup victory his first year in the league. Also, over forty years later, his record of being undefeated at both the high school and college level still stands. Although football is an important part of this story, the civil rights movement, race, and racism are also critical components. It’s a story of history as well.
Intertwined with her father’s story is Jael’s story. The struggles and challenges that she faced while trying to find her own identity and place in the world as a young Black woman is a story that many racialized students can connect and relate to. She eloquently describes how difficult it was to fit in at times and to be herself, despite societal expectations, stereotypes and norms. Finding what it meant to be Black and how that impacted and played a role in her life, her experiences, and her relationships.
Given that Jael and her father both reside in Brampton, teachers/librarians in Ontario have the opportunity to book them for school presentations. Having had both of them present at my school, I would not hesitate to highly recommend them as they were highly engaging and made deep connections with our students. They are also appropriate to book for the elementary school panel as well, as Jael has written a children’s picture book version of The Stone Thrower (beautifully illustrated by Matt James).
In addition to the book, there is also a documentary called Stone Thrower: The Chuck Ealey Story that provides a wonderful visual representation of the book and brings it to life for student audiences. The documentary is available on YouTube.
Books similar to The Stone Thrower:
Gridiron Underground: Black American Journeys into Canadian Football by James R. Wallen
A Sporting Chance: Achievements of Achievements of African Canadian Athletes by William Humber
Angela James: The First Superstar of Canadian Women’s Hockey by Tom Bartsiokas and Corey Long
Integrating the Gridiron: Black Civil Rights and American College Football by Lane Demas
Willie O’Ree: The Story of the First Black Player in the NHL by Nicole Mortillaro
Black Ice: The Val James Story by Val James and John Gallagher
Runner: The Life of Harry Jerome, World’s Fastest Man by Norma Charles
How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School and Life by Karl Subban and Scott Colby
Jonelle St. Aubyn started her teaching career with the Peel District School Board as a Health and Physical Education and Family Studies teacher at T.L. Kennedy Secondary School in 2002. She opened Louise Arbour Secondary School as the Head of Physical Education and transitioned to the Library Learning Commons in 2015. Since then, she has been the full-time teacher-librarian at Louise Arbour.