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Chip Hilton: Young Adult Sports Series
I was first introduced to Chip Hilton and the writings of Clair Bee in 1962 by Mr. Louis Keller, my fifth grade teacher. Today I have no recollection of the why but for some reason he presented me with a copy of Fence Busters. Fifty-one years later it remains one of the most appreciated gifts I have ever received.
The Chip Hilton Series is twenty-four sports novels published between 1948 and 1965. The 24th, Fiery Fullback, was actually published in 2002, posthumously. The books center around William “Chip” Hilton, an outstanding young man who holds high moral values and his friends, all of whom are athletes, first at Valley Falls High School and then at State U. Each book incorporates a season as Chip and his friends progress through school. Nine of the books are about baseball, eight basketball and seven football.
A typical Chip Hilton book involves two or three related plots. Generally the team is involved in a championship run and one or more of Chip’s teammates will have a personal issue. More often than not the teammate does not like Chip and by the end of the book issues are solved and Chip has a new friend. Other themes involve doing the right thing even when it is the more difficult thing to do, supporting the people in your life and the value of work, study and friendship.
The Chip Hilton Framework
William “Big Chip” Hilton was an outstanding 3-sport athlete at ValleyFallsHigh School who went on to athletic prowess at State. He received his degree in Chemistry, married his childhood sweetheart and returned to Valley Falls to become the chief chemist in J.P. Ohlsen’s pottery factory, the predominant business in town. Big Chip dies saving the life of a careless pottery worker in an industrial accident leaving Mary with young Chip. His legacy to Chip is a backyard that is set up as a small athletic field: pitcher’s mound, basketball nets and goalposts. This becomes Chip’s sanctuary and, along with his friends, is referred to as the Hilton AC.
Mary Hilton is an amazing mom who enjoys the company of Chip’s friends and always has several over on Sundays for dinner and usually a few other days of the week also. Chip has a basic core of friends – most predominant being Soapy Smith, Speed Morris and Biggie Cohen – that expands with every book as a new issue is resolved and people are welcomed into the Hilton AC. The father figure is Henry Rockwell, “the understanding coach.” A very successful coach he also sees himself as an educator of young men. When the series starts he is older, he had also been Big Chip’s coach, and some of the early subplots revolve around attempts to force his retirement. Ultimately he is forced out but fortunately it is at the end of Chip’s senior year at Valley Falls. Apparently State has been trying to get Rockwell on campus for years and, as the series transits to University, Chip, his teammates and Rockwell all go together.
Chip is always working as are his friends. He’s trying to help his mom out with expenses and he doesn't want her to be burdened with the cost of his education. The work ethic is strong throughout the series and Chip would rather earn his way through school than take a scholarship. His employers are always very supportive of Chip and his friends and, at times, figure prominently into the plots.
With 412 victories in 23 seasons as the basketball coach at RiderCollege and Long IslandUniversity, Clair Bee (1896 – 1983) was a highly respected coach. His teams had two undefeated seasons, 1936 and 1939, and won NIT titles, 1939 and 1941. He holds the Division 1 NCAA record for highest winning percentage with 82.6 percent. His contributions to the game include the 1-3-1 defense and the 3-second rule. Bee was inducted into the Basketball Hall of fame in 1968. The Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award and the Chip Hilton Player of the Year Award are presented annually by the NCAA.
Bee based the character of Chip Hilton on Bob Davies, the “Harrisburg Houdini,” who played basketball for Seton Hall University and led them to 43 consecutive victories between 1939 and 1941. After service in World War II he played with the Rochester Royals of the NBA through the 1954-55 season, leading them to the title in 1946. In 1971 he was one of ten players named to the NBA 25th Anniversary team.
The Return of Chip Hilton
The series had been out of print since 1966 but was brought back through the efforts of several people, most notably Cindy Bee Farley, her husband Randy, and Bob Knight. The stories have been updated for a new generation but central themes remain untouched. Chip now does schoolwork on a computer, one of his teammates fails a drug test administered by the NCAA, and his mother is diagnosed with cancer. With the updating the series remains conservative and you won’t find Chip or his friends at the tattoo parlor or sporting earrings. They did convert Speed, the member of the Hilton AC who is second only to Chip as an athlete, to an African-American. I’m not sure it was necessary as the original series dealt with racism but it is done so subtlety that as I began reading the new series I found myself wondering if Speed was always black and it just hadn't registered with me.
The reissued series has actually been available for several years now; I simply had not taken note. However, when I received a Kindle for Christmas and began exploring the titles I received a very pleasant surprise.
Introduce your child to Chip Hilton. As a parent you can be assured that it is a “safe read.” The odds are your child will find it very enjoyable and may very well learn some quality lessons.