Clair bee is one of the few coaches whose legacy is words as well as wins. Though his 412 career victories, achieved over 23 seasons at Rider College and Long Island University, make him the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history, Hall of Famer Bee is remembered as much for the 23-book Chip Hilton Sports Series that he wrote between 1948 and 1964. Out of print since 1966, the series still has a following among middle-aged males who grew up on the white-bread, whole-milk athleticism of Chip and his pals. I'm one of those males, and I have communicated with hundreds of others over the last two decades.
Well, Hiltonites, there's big news: The first 12 books of the series are available again (from Amazon.com or at independent bookstores) with updated characters and plots, and there are plans to rerelease all 23, plus a 24th (Fiery Fullback) from an unpublished manuscript that Bee completed before he died in 1983. That's not necessarily good news for those Hiltonites who wish that time would not tamper with Chip, that the mythical Valley Falls High and State University where he spun out his three-sport heroics would remain in their pristine states. In fact, modernizing the series wasn't even the first choice of the modernizers themselves, namely Bee's daughter, Cindy Farley, and her husband, Randy, who promised Bee, before his death at age 87, that they would try to make the books available to a new generation. "We wanted to put them out the way they were, which was always Dad's hope," says Cindy. "But no publisher would let us do the originals, because they thought no one would buy them."
That's probably true, but Hilton traditionalists shouldn't fret too much. Though there will be plot changes (a buddy who fails an NCAA-administered drug test, a bout of cancer for Chip's beloved mother, Mary), Chip will not be walking out of the huddle with an earring or flashing a radical tattoo as he rubs down the ball on the mound. The Farleys, both teachers, are conservative, as is the publisher, Broadman and Holman of Nashville, whose list consists mostly of religious titles. "Updating the books was a daunting task because we realize how powerful the legacy is and we want to protect it," says Randy. "How much should we change? How different would readers want the stories to be? And we had in the back of our minds, always, the thought of Clair watching over us."
Not to mention the nitpicking Hiltonites. I was only a few pages into the re-released version of Touchdown Pass, the first book that Bee wrote (and the first to be revised), when the present clanged against the past. "This isn't a football team!" shouts Valley Falls coach Henry Rockwell, the stern but fair disciplinarian whom Bee modeled on himself. "It's a bunch of wimpy couch potatoes!" Ooh, didn't sound right. So I went to the original, in which the Rock shouted, "This isn't a football team. It's a bunch of drugstore cowboys!" I'm not sure that, even for today's reader, "wimpy couch potatoes" sounds more believable coming from an angry coach than "drugstore cowboys."
As I read on there was—whoa!—a big change. Speed Morris, Chip's best buddy in high school and the only one close to Chip's equal as an athlete, actually changed pigmentation, from white to black. The Farleys say it had nothing to do with political correctness and only a little to do with the need to add diversity among the main characters. Both Farleys claim that, as they were reading the books as youngsters, they pictured Speed as black, even though that was not Bee's intention.
I've yet to see any of the updated college books, so I wonder if they are more, well, adventurous than their predecessors in the area of male-female relationships. You see, though Chip was quite a power hitter, he never made it to first base with the girls, not even when he was a three-sport All-America at State. "We can tell you that he does get his first kiss," says Cindy. "But Mitzi Savrill [a cashier at State Drug, where Chip works] has to bring a sprig of mistletoe for it to happen."
So don't worry, you tradition-loving Hiltonites: Chip may have an E-mail address, but his virginity appears to be securely intact.