Old-Fashioned Sportsmanship Updated for the '90s

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Chip Hilton's return to the national sports scene is long overdue. In his absence, misbehaving athletes have made as many front-page headlines as back-page headlines. And we're no longer shocked to hear our role models repeat the phrase "sports is a business."

But now that good old Chip is back, things are going to change.

The hero of 23 books written between 1948 and 1966, Chip is the creation of the late Clair Bee, the legendary coach of the Long Island University basketball teams of the 1950s and, later, the athletic director at West Point.

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Popular among parents for his untarnished sense of decency and among children for his enviable athletic prowess, Chip Hilton was a perennial champion for Grosset & Dunlap publishers. The original books are now collector's items and occupy shelves in the rare book departments of major libraries. But the Hilton series sold 2.1 million copies before it was discontinued in the late 1960s.

This fall, the series is making its comeback, with revisions by Bee's daughter, Cindy, and her husband, Randy Farley, both schoolteachers in Indonesia.

Before Bee died in 1983, he had received several offers from publishers interested in a Chip Hilton revival, but he refused them all.

"Coach would not allow anyone else to gain control over his creation," says Mr. Farley. "However, prior to his death, we did promise Coach we would somehow, some way, share his message with a new generation."

The Farleys recognized an opportunity to fulfill their promise in 1994 when two lifelong Chip Hilton fans - Bobby Knight, coach of the Indiana University basketball team, and John Humphrey, executive director of Vision Quest sports consulting - encouraged them to set the Hilton ball rolling again.

The project originally met resistance from many major publishing houses. Some told the Farleys that boys' fiction was a publishing deadend. Others were only interested in the Hilton series if Chip were allowed to take on some of the individualist ethic prevalent in today's basketball environment.

"They wanted us to make him a hip guy and give him an attitude," Mr. Humphrey says. "But if you give Chip an attitude, he's not Chip Hilton anymore."

So Humphrey and the Farleys tried a different approach: They searched for publishing houses that shared their values. Ultimately, they found Broadman & Holman, a Nashville-based Christian publishing house.

"If the major publishers didn't want Chip's wholesomeness," Humphrey says, "the Christian publishers did."

"The original books, as well as the updates, acknowledge the Hilton family's spiritual life," Randy Farley adds. "So the match was always there just waiting to happen."

After the Farleys found their publisher, they set to work revising the old series for a new generation of readers, a task that posed interesting challenges.

Sports rules and terminology have changed drastically since Bee wrote the original books 40 years ago. The jumpshot has replaced the two-handed set shot in basketball, for instance. But the Farleys and their editors also recognized how drastically our social mores have changed as well.

"Characters in the original books had nicknames like 'Fats' that would have been acceptable 30 years ago, but might be offensive today," says Bill Watkins, senior acquisitions editor at Broadman & Holman.

And while Bee was ahead of his time in presenting Chip's mother as a single mom, the portrait of Mary Hilton had to be revised to reflect a more modern outlook.

Given the success of the WNBA and the recent emergence of female athletes, the authors decided to strengthen the representation of women throughout the series to appeal to female readers. "In the updates, we've added a female character, a middle-school aged sister of one of Chip's friends, who is a runner," says Cindy Farley.

Broadman & Holman has also made a concerted effort to update the packaging to appeal to an audience that has grown up with a kinetic, MTV sensibility. "We've put a lot of action and motion into the cover art, illustrating the scenes from different perspectives and camera angles," says Mark Lusk, director of marketing for Broadman & Holman.

But the most important new element, from a marketing standpoint, will be the celebrity-penned forewords.

"The original series encouraged and informed a number of people who are in very important positions," Mr. Watkins says. "So getting some of those people to say that the series was valuable may influence a whole new generation."

Among the foreword writers are Mr. Knight, Dean Smith, the former coach of the North Carolina University-Chapel Hill basketball team, and Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana.

The attraction for everyone involved with Chip's revival is clear. As Coach Rockwell, Bee's literary alter ego, tells Chip in "Ten Seconds to Play!": "You'll have a chance to work with kids. And I can think of no better way to spend a summer or a lifetime."

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