This chapter focuses on Carter High School in Dallas, Permian’s next opponent. Carter is a primarily black school in an upper class area of Dallas. We are introduced to two players, Gary Edwards and Derric Evans. If Boobie miles had it good at Permian, school for Gary and Derric is like being in paradise. Football players at Carter have no rules. They can come and go from class when they want. They can hand in their homework or choose not to. Oddly enough the marks for every boy on the team stays above the state sanctioned minimum of 70 percent in order to play football. Initially Carter would have not even have had a team with the new state sanctioned academics standards. Carter was able to go to their board to change the criteria as to how students were assessed. They conjured up some “experts” to attest to the idea that class participation and formative assessment was more desirable than the summative status quo.
Football players at Carter were hence graded on a second-rate version of grade school 'show and tell'. Many teachers at Carter cringed at the new assessment technique; some even resigned their positions. Will Bates, however, refuses to tow the line on this policy. Bates had been a math teacher at Carter for many years and he refused to grade his students on their favorite football cleat. Gary Edwards, Carters star player, is getting low marks in Mr. Bates’ class. With a little more than a week to go until the end of the report card period, the principal, C.C. Rousseau, transfers Gary out of Bates’ class and into a class where the teacher is more of a team player. On top of that Mr. Bates, who has a doctorate and 35 years of teaching experience, is reprimanded for not adhering to the School Improvement Plan School Improvement Plan.
An anonymous call is made to school investigators telling them to take a look at Gary Edwards’ algebra grade. As it turns out Gary Edwards only received 68.7 percent; this would forfeit all of Carter’s wins since the reporting period. Gary had cut one too many classes, machining his participation rate fall. The principal of the school decided that really Gary deserved more and overrides the mark. The Superintendent of the district, Marvin Edwards, backs the principal up on his decision. Gary Edwards argues that his decision to uphold the changed mark had nothing to do with football and everything to do with keeping the school’s autonomy separate from prying state officials. Of course the school board of Plano, where Carter’s rival school is situated, files suit to seek an injunction preventing Carter from continuing on in the playoffs. Eventually the whole case lands in the lap of the Texas State Supreme Court. The court decides that Carter had a right to their own assessment standards and that the team could proceed into the semi-finals against Permian.
There are bitter arguments between the coaching staff of Permian and Carter, a neutral spot is finally chosen for game day. Few of the boys had ever seen the likes of Memorial Stadium at Texas A & M. Mike Winchell, however, had seen college games there before and those memories linger in his dreams; now, he would be playing in that stadium; he would be front and center on that field of dreams.
Although Mike Winchell would like to play college football, the stars just are not aligned for him. Coach Gaines had done what he could for Mike. He had told college coaches about Mike’s unwavering dedication and devotion to the team. Unfortunately, colleges needed more than dedication and devotion to their team. Mike Winchell simply was not big enough or fast enough to interest them. Instead they were after guys like Ivory Christian or even Brian Chavez.
On game day the stadium at Texas A& M looks more like a segregated rock concert. The predominantly black fans of Carter are placed across the field from the predominately white fans of Permian to avoid physical contact. Racial slurs are hurled at each other by both sides of the field. The Carter Cowboys are big, intimidating, and foul mouthed. When the game begins, the Carter defensive line shuts down Mike Winchell. These boys come raining down on the Permian offence force of men much older than them. The Permian defense, however, is up to the challenge as well. The game goes back and forth. Coach Gaines demands that they keep hammering and clawing at that defense. He insists that, although the Carter boys are bigger, Permian is in better condition.
With a few minutes left in the game, Mike Winchell throws the ball against an exhausted Carter defense and gains nine yards. Finally with less than a minute to go Winchell gets the ball to an open Chavez but is shut down by the speed of Carter’s Jesse Armistead. Everyone from Odessa is either at the game or listening to it over the radio. Even Booby Miles huddles around his radio. His football dreams in ruins, he is still hoping his former teammates succeed. In Permian’s final desperate play of the game, Brown turns toward Winchell, signaling he’s open, Winchell throws the ball but the pass fails. The Permian Panthers lose to the Carter Cowboys by a score of 14-9.
Back in the locker room the boys are bruised, beat up and stunned. Some sob openly. Coach Gaines reminds his players of how proud he is of them but there is finality to his statement. For most of these boys, their glory days have just abruptly ended. Players like Mike Winchell will exit the football locker room for one last time. These boys will once again enter the land of mortals and Permian will begin building new heroes once again.
Bissinger gives us some information about the aftermath of Permian’s loss to The Carter Cowboys. The Cowboys go on to win the state final. Colleges and universities heavily court Derric Evans and Gary Edwards, two star players on the Carter team. They are jetted around to different schools in the nation. The boys’ mediocre academic abilities do not seem to be an issue with these schools. Both Derric and Gary are tempted with everything from luxury campus residence to even unofficial suggestions that expensive cars and girls could be also a part of their future at certain schools. With such a bright future, it is ironic when Derric and Gary commit the first of a string of armed robberies in May of 1989. After their arrest, public opinion once again falls behind racial lines. Both boys lose their scholarships. Brian Chavez gets into Harvard and onto their football team. Brian’s father is livid at coach Gaines for not sending Harvard the right tapes of Brian’s games. Football at Harvard, however, pales to the intensity of Permian MOJO and Brian loses interest in football; he decides to drop out of football and concentrate on his studies. Boobie Miles gets on a small college team but quickly becomes frustrated with the lack of glamor and his poor academic performance. The rest of the boys go on to other things in life; they never played high level football again.
The freedom that the football players at Carter enjoy makes Boobie’s academic schedule at Permian seem grueling. Star players like Gary Edwards and Derric Evans come and go as they please and write tests that are never really marked. Certainly there are parallels that could be drawn with the way Permian’s treatment of their players if only Carter’s infringements were not so glaringly overt. Bissinger is baffled by the hypocrisy of the Texas education system. People thought it to be progressive. When the state of Texas passed a minimum grade requirement for high school athletic eligibility, Carter had big problems. It looked like they weren’t going to have much of a team. To circumvent this issue, the school paraded various education “experts” touting the benefits of participative and formative education assessment, especially on black youth. The result meant that players merely had to show up to class to get the required grade and stay on the team.
The entitlement in football culture at Carter had reached sublime levels. When the state education board questioned a star player who had actually failed and skipped a lot of classes, the school finally played their race card. They accused the state of meddling in the education of black students. They demanded that the state and competing schools simply wanted to see black kids fail at both academics and football. The clash of entitlement, racism, and football hysteria resembled a circus freak show. The courts got involved and both sides trotted out “experts” to prove their case. In the end, the racial implications were just too strong for the courts to ignore: Carter would be allowed to play.
The day the boys of Permian enter their field of dreams. In this case it is Memorial Stadium at Texas A & M. This stadium is what these boys have been dreaming about. Stadiums are very much part of the mythos of American football (Hawthorne, 6). Bissinger portrays the Carter fans and players as overtly racist and angry. Black players and coaching staff from Permian are subjected to offensive monikers like “Oreo” (305). One of the running themes in this book involves the license that football gives fans and players to act like racist hooligans. This begs the question; are these fans merely stirred up by the moment or is football enabling them to act out their inner prejudices? Is the high school football game a vehicle to display long simmering racial aggression? Perhaps these outbursts are due to a combination of factors but the cumulative effect on the atmosphere of this game is ugly. The reader gets the distinct sense that this football game is more about racial superiority than it is about football.
In the end The Carter Bulldogs do beat the Permian Panthers. As the boys leave the locker room, many for the last time, the reader gets the sense that the outcome of the game does not really matter: it never really mattered. For most of these boys, their glory days have abruptly ended. Even stars like Ivory Christian will discover they were playing football in a small pond. The ones that make it to college football will realize they are disposable, like a toothbrush past its best before date. One by one the boys silently leave the locker room to once again enter the world of mortals. Coach Gaines watches the last door shut and looks at his chalkboard; there is a new team to begin planning for.