The year was 1961, a year marking the start of the racial unrest that would last throughout the decade. Living in a trailer camp in Maryland with his wife and children, Fred’s future seemed bleak—that is, until he heard a college football coach being interviewed on a local radio show talking about becoming a Physical Education teacher. The coach’s words would inspire him enough to register at Maryland State College, a then all-black college. The thing of it was, Fred Engh was white. He would become the first white student to attend Maryland State, a segregated college. His intention was not to break any racial barriers or make any headlines. He simply wanted a better life for himself and his family as an accredited teacher. What he learned from attending that college however was something he had not expected. Matchsticks: An Education in Black & White is his story.
Fred Engh and his non-profit organization, NAYS—the National Alliance for Youth Sports—have positively affected the lives of millions of children throughout the country for decades, but chances are you have never heard of him or his group. What he has tried to do is make organized sports for kids fun. He has done this by training coaches to be fair, avoid playing favorites, bulling players, and stopping fans from getting out of control. He has also tried to even the playing field for children of different colors and ethnicities. From baseball to soccer to golf, he has made it his mission to let children choose to play the sport they love—no matter where they live or how well they play. And yet, the story behind how he discovered his calling in life is definitely a remarkable one of transition.
Today, when racial disparagement has once again taken the form of marches, protesters, and daily news headlines, here is a tale of discovery, understanding, and personal change. A lesson still as valuable today as it was then.
"A memoir from 'the first white student to receive his diploma at an all-Black college' . . . In this intriguing, entertaining look into the past, the author shares what it was like to become fully aware of the insidious entrenchment of racism in American society . . . Interspersed with the primary narrative are sidebar timelines of major events that occurred between 1941 and 2020, which help anchor the author’s personal story in a historical context . . . Given the 'rampant' division that currently plagues our social landscape, [Engh's] lesson of acceptance and intellectual growth is heartening . . . Thought-provoking memories of a civil rights–era friendship that crossed racial lines."—Kirkus Reviews
"Inspiring . . . this isn’t just a story about tapping into potential. It’s about tapping into the potential of a society to fix itself — to undo systemic racism. It’s about just what it takes, person by person . . . MATCHSTICKS is filled with heartening moments, told with warmth as well as honesty . . . certainly, as we go through the process of reckoning with the fact that racism is alive and well even now, it’s great to read a story like this."—Medium.com - Jana Martin
"In this warmly accessible book, Fred Engh’s life is related as a parallel to racial questions that continue to rise—and hopefully grow to improve . . . both a fine insight into the impact of sports, sportsmanship, and brotherhood—subjects that concern us all—as well as a thoroughly entertaining memoir. Highly recommended."—Grady Harp, top book reviewer
"Engh (Why Johnny Hates Sports), the founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, shares the unusual path his life took . . . [as] 'the first white student to receive his diploma at an all-Black college in 1961' . . . Engh’s experience as the school’s lone white student enabled him to empathize with his Black colleagues who were routinely regarded with disgust or hostility because of their skin color . . . this fascinating fish-out-of-water account provides a unique perspective on race and culture."—Publishers Weekly
"Today, when racial disparagement has once again taken the form of marches, protesters, and daily news headlines, here is a tale of discovery, understanding, and personal change. A lesson still as valuable today as it was then . . . Inspired and inspiring, Matchsticks is both timely and timeless. Timely in this era of protests against structural racial injustice and the rise of white power elements in our society and governments; Timeless in that all that is necessary is for good people of all diverse backgrounds to work toward creating a non-prejudicial future for themselves and for the next generation."—Midwest Book Review (MBR) - "Michael Dunford's Bookshelf"
"An inherently impressive and inspiring life story, Matchsticks: An Education in Black & White is timely when considering today's struggle for the end of systemic racism, and timeless when considering one man's determination to make a better life for himself, his family, and his community."—Midwest Book Review (MBR) - "The Biography Shelf"
"[A] snapshot of 1960s Maryland and an American society that was still heavily segregated . . . Through his experience as the only white student at Maryland State College, Engh not only witnessed racism and insensitivity in the culture surrounding him but was forced to confront his own ideologies and misconceptions. Engh’s short yet powerful memoir highlights important moments in America’s history of Civil Rights, leading up to the recent events of 2020 involving police brutality, recession, and major political milestones . . . provides more than a story of a white man learning to see beyond his own perspective, it also portrays the longevity of racial injustice by peeling back the layers of overt and implicit racism, exposing the systemic flaws within American society . . . Fred Engh presents an honest portrayal of the potential to change the hearts and minds of people subscribed or apathetic to America’s systemic racism, beginning with empathy born from human connection."—Sport Literature Association (SLA)
SEE BELOW FOR A REVIEW QUOTE ON THE "AUDIOBOOK" VERSION OF MATCHSTICKS:
"[Narrator] Eddie Frierson gives a broadcast-worthy narration of Engh's Civil Rights-era memoir . . . Frierson's commentator tone belies the anxiety conveyed in Engh's story; his smooth narration somewhat cushions the listener from Fred's experience of being a local curiosity—a 'white matchstick' in a book of black matches . . . affix[es] listeners to the fraught '60s as experienced by Engh. Frierson's voices for Bob Taylor, Engh's Maryland State football friend, and assorted white characters who distrust any bond between races bring the unfairness of this time and place to life."—AudioFile Magazine
"The teacher in your life will love reading Matchsticks . . . this book is also a great read for the sports fan on your list."—Terri Schlichenmeyer, The BookWorm Sez (syndicated reviewer)
Fred Engh has been involved in youth sports for over thirty years—as a coach, athletic director, and sports educator. In 1981, he founded a program that evolved into The National Alliance For Youth Sports (NAYS), a nonprofit organization that works to provide safe sports for America’s youth. As president of the Alliance, Engh has appeared on numerous television shows, including Dateline NBC and 20/20.
Jann Seal attended the University of Maryland in College Park receiving her undergraduate degree in English. After driving around the world in a Land Rover and writing about her adventures, she began her career teaching high school English in Baltimore’s inner city. With a move to Los Angeles, she became an advertising copy writer opening the door to writing for network television soap operas. Jann currently writes and edits magazines and newspaper articles and has published a cookbook. She and her husband Paul live in Lake Worth, Florida.