Michael D'Orso

Eagle Blue

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Eagle Blue Summary

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Eagle Blue (2006), a novel by Michael D’Orso, follows a team of fourteen high school basketball players and their coach in the predominantly Gwich’in American Indian village of Fort Yukon, Alaska. Dave Bridges, nominated to coach the team, strives to recruit and motivate his athletes to excel within the larger framework of cultural conflict in Fort Yukon between white and indigenous populations. The team makes its way to the state championship, and each of the players comes to uniquely exemplify perseverance and cultural achievement.

The novel begins at the start of a school year in Fort Yukon. Fort Yukon High’s basketball team, the Eagles, has historically received too little interest from the student body to play competitively. To turn things around and boost morale, the school commissions Bridges, a local community leader, to recruit and coach the team. Bridges takes on the job despite his doubts that he will be able to convince a Gwich’in community to care about an American sport primarily played in big cities in the continental U.S.

At the team’s first practice, only four students show up to try out for spots on the team. Stepping up his recruiting efforts, Bridges manages to find ten more, which makes enough for a full team plus alternates. He suspects that the coming season will be challenging: his students have difficult lives at home, and have no real vested interest in basketball. The day of their first tournament, a several-hour drive from Fort Yukon, only seven of the players show up. Bridges learns that several of the absentees are failing class and therefore are prohibited from participating in extracurriculars. Others have no means of transportation to the tournaments. They win, despite having fewer than the nine members that usually make up a team.

Fort Yukon loses the following two games, but then wins a streak of eleven in a row. The night after they lose to Tanana, one of the best teams in the state, some girls from Tanana sneak out to meet some of the Fort Yukon players at a party. Tanana’s coach catches them, suspending them for several games. The Fort Yukon boys had decided not to go to the party at all and were not penalized for driving the girls to the party.

At the end of the novel, the team makes it to the state championship, a fourteen-hour drive from Fort Yukon. The tournament lasts three days; against the odds that were stacked against them since the beginning of the season, Fort Yukon wins. Bridges is amazed at his boys’ success and celebrates their perseverance to excel at a sport traditionally dominated by non-indigenous people. Eagle Blue validates the efforts of marginalized American Indian people to assimilate into the contemporary American world without relinquishing their cultural heritage.