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Kyle Veazey realizes life goal of writing sports book

Veasley

Kyle Veazey, an Ole Miss journalism graduate and a sports enterprise reporter for the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, has written a book about Mississippi State University’s 1962-63 men’s basketball team, which defied an unwritten Mississippi law that forbade the state’s college teams from competing against integrated squads. “Champions for Change” is Veazey’s first book.

Q — When did you and what made you decide you wanted to write a book about what Mississippi State’s basketball team did in 1963?

A — I stumbled into this project for a simple reason: I wanted to read a book about it. I saw one of the two documentaries made on the team and sought “the book,” but then soon realized there was no book. Writing a book had always been a life goal and given that I lived in Starkville at the time, this was a logical opening. It’s odd to think about it now, but as late as the spring of 2009, I had no idea the depth of this story — and now I’ve written the book on it.

 

Q — How long was the process? In other words, how long was it from the first time you thought about this until the final draft was approved and publishing started?

A — The idea came about in the spring of 2009, but for various reasons — one of which being that I was married that December — I didn’t start until the next spring. I spent much of the first year researching. I spent hours in the archives and reading microfilm. I conducted 27 interviews, some on the road and some on the phone. I spent much of the second year writing, which sometimes was a challenge given how unpredictable the day job can be. I emailed my final draft on July 31 of this year, three days ahead of my 30th birthday, which was my goal. That’s about 26 months.

 

Q — What were the rewarding parts of researching and writing ‘Champions for Change,’ and what were the not-so rewarding parts?

A — The rewarding part was getting to meet the players from those teams who loved telling their stories. Especially rewarding was getting to meet Babe McCarthy’s family and receiving their openness about Babe, who I think is an under-appreciated figure both in Mississippi sports and the sport of basketball in general. As for challenges, there were two main ones. One was organization. I had a three-inch, three-ring binder filled with interview transcripts and research notes and had to boil that down to 45,000 words. I spent a good part of one beach vacation doing that, which earned some dirty looks from the wife and family. But I had to cull the meaningful parts and then figure out an outline that helped best guide the story. The other significant challenge was purely in the writing: How to tell a suspenseful, dramatic narrative on a story that most of the audience already knows the ending? Remember, the 1963 team isn’t an altogether unknown story in Mississippi. I didn’t want to patronize the reader by continually casting doubt whether the team would go. I wanted to establish that as an essential fact from the beginning. The challenge became that dance in telling the story with suspense that kept the reader engaged yet with not so much suspense that the reader thought it wasn’t genuine.

 

Q — Race relations are a touchy subject in Mississippi. How did you navigate that? Was there anybody you needed to interview who was totally unwilling or less than excited to talk?

A — It occurs to me that your question is essentially the first time I’ve really thought about that, at least in the context of whether someone would talk, because I never had that problem. And, in my estimation, here’s why: This was a good thing Mississippi did. In that era, Mississippi did mainly bad things. So why not talk about something progressive that happened in race relations in Mississippi in the 1960s?

 

Q — Were you familiar with the principals involved in the MSU-Loyola game beforehand? If not, what did you learn about them? If so, how did this project alter your opinion of them?

A — I didn’t know much about Babe McCarthy before doing the book, but I feel after two years of research that I know the man even though he passed away before I was born. I admire how he was self-made. I mean, he became a Southeastern Conference basketball coach at the age of 32 — and left his job as a salesman for Standard Oil in Clarksdale to do it. He coached a state high school title team at 24. And his players from that era swear he was running a certain offensive approach before anyone else. He was a character, really. Someone can look back now at the media guide and see his banner at Humphrey Coliseum and just assume he was just another basketball coach, but I learned that’s not at all the case.

 

Q — Do you have plans for another book?

A — I have some ideas — maybe not plans, per se — for a second book. It’s about that time that I start putting together some proposals and see what might work. I’m probably better off not disclosing what they are, but none of the proposals, at least as of this writing, are sports.

 

 

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