Patch is a charming novel about high school track and field (I found this particularly attractive because middle school athletics didn't exist, so as a runner I was just marking time till high school). The book is set in Crescent City, a thinly-disguised Evansville, Indiana. Sherrill Jones, quickly nicknamed Patch, transfers to West High from a rural school. Accidentally, he discovers the track team. Like Glenn Cunningham or Kip Keino, Patch has already spent his childhood running everywhere--to school and back, after the local freight train, around the family farm. Based on this background and his love of running, he becomes a miler. However, there's a lot that Patch has to learn about training, pacing, competition, and being a member of a team. Coach Anderson, a pipe-smoking veteran track coach, struggles to help him through those lessons. Patch has an additional mentor in fellow West High miler Benny Chapnik, a Latvian refugee. Unfortunately, Patch also had adversaries on the team, Grover Godwin and Sax Warner, middle-distance runners who feel threatened by the outsider.
Although not flawless, the book gets most of the track and field right. Frick was either an avid track fan or did a lot of research. This also shows in all the historical references--characters often mention athletes such as John Landy, Arne Anderson, Gunder Hägg, Roger Bannister, Wes Santee, Paavo Nurmi, and others when making a point about racing or training. This is especially true of Benny, who is a scholar of the sport. For example, in his discussion with team manager Dirk Ingersoll:
"You can do it in formal practice too," Benny said as if reading Dirk's thoughts. "Zatopek, the Czech who set three new Olympic records at Helsinki in '52, once ran sixty quarters in a single workout--and ran each quarter in sixty seconds. Roger Bannister of England, first man to break the four-minute mile, prepared for it by training several times a week, each time running ten consecutive quarter-miles at the same speed. He started in December, running the quarters in sixty-six seconds. By April he had brought the time down to fifty-nine."A similar discussion about the shot put even rates a footnote, referring the reader to the 21 March 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated.
Frick also got the local athletic background right. Perhaps you haven't heard of the great Indiana schoolboy miler of the 1930s, Tommy Deckard, but Frick had, and every word she wrote about him was true. She could have just gotten it from a program from a track meet, but she also could have entirely forsaken research and made up a name and a time.
Frick, as it turns out, was Dr. Constance Henrietta Frick Irwin (1913-1995). She grew up and lived most of her life in Evansville and southern Indiana, but 1957, the year she wrote Patch, was her third year of living in Iowa City, Iowa with her husband, Dr. William R. Irwin. The "Crescent City" setting of Patch may have been Frick's way of re-visiting Evansville during her Iowa exile, or it may have just been following the adage "write what you know." Frick also knew high school students, having taught and run the school libary in Indianapolis and Evansville. She also wrote books for adult readers, but Patch was one of four sports novels Frick authored for young readers, the others being Tourney Team (1954), Five Against the Odds (1955), and The Comeback Guy (1961). Of these, only The Comeback Guy also dealt with track and field, being about the senior year of Jeff Stanley, a high-school pole vaulter.
As one might suspect of a book published over half a century ago, Patch is out of print. There are a few copies floating around, though. My copy is one that was retired from the Edgewater High School library in Orlando, Florida, hopefully after a generation or two of high school athletes had a chance to read it. It certainly looks like it has been through that many hands. You could do worse than hunt down a copy for a future read. How can anyone dislike a book with a shot-putter named Moose?