Strat Warden explains the inspiration behind Huskers.
“Daddy, why do we have to play sports?” begged my seven-year-old daughter as a howling gale slammed the car door on the stinging sleet, the only true victor of the just concluded competitive soccer game. It was the same question her older brother had asked near the end of his third-grade year the previous spring, after lollygagging in right center field until nearly eleven o’clock on a school night. The sad truth: I knew the answer, but it sure wasn’t consistent with the reality of my children’s “youth sports” experience as they were living it in the 21st century. Somehow, in my kids’ world of “participating” in the “organized” athletics of today’s recreational leagues and competitive traveling teams with their determined coaching and over parenting, the true values to be gained from “playing sports” were nowhere to be found.
An experience I’d had growing up in rural Nebraska in the 1960s flashed through my mind. If I could capture that experience from my youth and what sports were to me back then and, somehow, help my kids feel it, ache with it, and revel in it, they would understand what tremendous life lessons could be, should be, integral to playing sports. I committed to writing “Huskers”.
My goal was to strip away all the extraneous distractions that hide what should be, for our children, the truly important aspects of playing sports, the lessons they learn through the experience that, once absorbed, will serve them well throughout the remainder of their lives, the great bulk of which will have no direct relationship with any sport. Yes, being exposed to and assimilating these life truths — hard work, sacrifice, teamwork, perseverance, success, failure, good sportsmanship, etc. — into their lives are the reasons for our children to play sports, not the fundamentals of any specific sport, and certainly not only the winning.
In “Huskers”, through the boys in the story and their struggles, I have tried to bring some of these truths to life and provide examples of how they can be confronted, engaged and learned. As the individual characters within the book grow and mature, they share many of the same challenges of coming of age as their teammates and of our children today, yet each has their own demons to face and overcome. In the book, through the clarity of a simpler time and place, I think the adult reader will recognize a world dramatically different in obvious ways, yet still with many of the same issues that our kids face today. For the youth, or young adult, reader I hope they are able to relate to the foreign, yet often eerily similar experiences, encountered by the characters in “Huskers”, ranging from dealing with bullying, to navigating through the world of discovering and relating to the opposite sex, to dealing with self-doubt and too often hardened insecurities, to accepting and negotiating inter-family dynamics, and acquiring the skills necessary for meaningful friendships, as well as others.
I felt it was important to give my children some insight into what I believed to be the true values to be gained from participating in sports, what they should be. That’s why I wrote “Huskers”, to answer my daughter’s question, “Daddy, why do we have to play sports?”
Huskers is about an introspective and resourceful young boy who becomes a reluctant leader when six of his friends, losers all, choose to follow him on a journey. It is about their desire and their need to become more than the little boys they perceive themselves to be. Huskers is an account of their quest and how, together, they learn to accept and overcome their individual flaws, struggle with their growing awareness of girls, and confront and conquer their personal demons. Along the broken and rocky climb, each finds inner strength and, as a team, they discover their character and realize the true value of sport. Seen through the clarity of a simpler time and place — rural Nebraska in 1960, Huskers is a testimony to the true values children should be learning through participation in youth sports.
Strat Warden grew up in rural Nebraska in the 1960s. He was an accomplished high school and college athlete, and served as a corpsman with the US Marines before earning a commission in the US Navy Medical Corps. He completed his training as a general surgeon in the US Navy and served in that capacity until he entered private practice in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. Dr. Warden retired in 2005 to spend more time with his children; devote more attention to ZirMed, Inc., where he served as Chairman of the Board until retiring in 2012; and to write Huskers, in hopes that it would help his children, and others, to understand the “true awards” of participating in sports.