Carry the Rock Race, Football, and the Soul of an American City

Jay Jennings

Rodale Books




280 Pages



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Jay Jennings, a veteran sportswriter and native son of Little Rock, returned to his hometown to take the pulse of the city and the school as the 50th anniversary of the integration fight approached. He found a compelling story in the school's football team, where black and white students came together under longtime coach Bernie Cox, whose philosophy of discipline and responsibility and punishing brand of physical football know no color. A very private man, Cox nevertheless allowed Jennings full access to the team, from a preseason program in July through the Tigers' final game in November.

In the season Jennings masterfully chronicles, the coach finds his ideas sorely tested in his attempts to unify the team, and the result is a story brimming with humor, compassion, frustration, and honesty. Carry the Rock tells the story of the dramatic ups and downs of a high school football season, and it reveals a city struggling with its legacy of racial tension and grappling with complex, subtle issues of contemporary segregation. What Friday Night Lights did for small-town Texas, Carry the Rock does for the urban south and for any place like Little Rock, where sports, race, and community intersect.


Praise for Carry the Rock

"Carry the Rock is that rare creation—an important story engagingly told."—Steve Rushkin, former Sports Illustrated columnist and author of The Pint Man

"Jay Jennings has dug deep to excavate Little Rock's complex and universal dance with the issues of race, class, money and the virtues of smashmouth football. You want to know the real South? Read this book."—S.L. Price, Sports Illustrated senior writer and author of Heart of the Game: Life, Death, and Mercy in Minor League America

"Carry the Rock transcends the season-on-the-brink genre."—The Wall Street Journal

"A native son juxtaposes passion for football and the tumultuous history of race relations in Little Rock. The result is a must-read page-turner."—Minnijean Brown Trickey, Little Rock Nine member

"Carry the Rock is the rare sports book that doesn't just transcend its genre; it soars high above it. Jay Jennings has produced much more than a chronicle of a season of dramatic Friday night wins and losses. He has given us a sweeping yet nuanced portrait of race in America—a picture of how far we have come since the Little Rock Nine made their historic stand and of how far we still have to go."—Jonathan Mahler, author of Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning

"Carry the Rock is a core sample, through layers of bright, dark, and hard-pressed solidarities. At bottom, it makes you root for the kids."—Roy Blount, Jr., author of About Three Bricks Shy of a Load

"Jennings has produced that rarest of things: A book about race and sports that avoids all the usual clichés about the redemptive power of high school football. Unsentimental yet inspiring, Carry the Rock does what all books about race relations should attempt but few achieve. It tells the reader something he doesn't know."—Joe Queenan, author of True Believers: The Tragic Inner Life of Sports Fans and Closing Time: A Memoir

"Jay Jennings has written an epistle that invites the reader to join him on a journey back to Little Rock, illuminating the dynamics of race, football, and the soul of the city."—Terrence Roberts, Little Rock Nine member and author of the memoir Lessons from Little Rock

"Because history has decreed a special role for Little Rock Central High, its Tigers have become more than your typical football team. Like the community and the school, they, too, are caught up in forces—racial, social, demographic, economic—that are larger than themselves. This book is an absorbing, touching chronicle of Coach Bernie Cox's struggling 2007 Tiger team."—David Margolick, author of Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little rock

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  • Jay Jennings

  • Jay Jennings is a freelance writer who has contributed to The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Oxford American, and many other magazines and newspapers. A former reporter for Sports Illustrated and features editor at Tennis magazine, he edited Tennis and the Meaning of Life: A Literary Anthology of the Game. He lives in Little Rock.