We Will Rise | Steve Beaven

Summary of: We Will Rise: A True Story of Tragedy and Resurrection in the American Heartland
By: Steve Beaven


In ‘We Will Rise: A True Story of Tragedy and Resurrection in the American Heartland’, Steve Beaven takes readers on an inspiring journey as he recounts the challenges and triumphs of the University of Evansville’s (UE) Purple Aces men’s basketball team in rebuilding itself through the late 1970s and early 1980s. The story begins with the tragic plane crash that killed the entire team, then follows the new coach’s efforts to revitalize the program, respecting the memory of the deceased while creating a new identity for the team. The narrative captures the spirit of a small town’s devotion to their team, demonstrating the resilience and power of communal unity amidst adversity.

The Rise and Fall of Evansville’s Basketball Team

During World War II, Evansville was a thriving defense contracting town that produced military equipment. However, in the 1950s, the town faced economic difficulties when major companies left. Evansville College’s basketball program became the social fabric that kept the town together. The establishment of Whirlpool Corporation’s plant in the late 1950s brought in new jobs and financial relief. By 1965, the Purple Aces men’s basketball team had won three championships, with a feature story appearing in Sports Illustrated. The team’s success boosted the town’s morale, and the residents passionately supported the home team. In 1977, Whirlpool began layoffs, and the college had moved up to Division I. Jerry Sloan, who had previously played with the Aces, was appointed the new coach. He initially faced self-doubt and indecision but eventually took the job. However, a few days later, he informed the college officials that he was leaving, shocking everyone. This signaled the decline of the Aces, and the town’s passion for basketball waned.

Bobby Watson: The Ace’s Turnaround

Bobby Watson, a veteran assistant coach, is chosen to lead the basketball program at the University of Evansville. He quickly implements changes to upgrade the program, including recruiting top talent, improving travel arrangements, and enforcing strict academic requirements. Watson’s exacting coaching style and dedication lead the team to practice seven days a week for two-and-a-half hours each day. His efforts pay off as the team’s star player, Mike Duff, helps turn the Aces into competitive contenders. Watson’s charisma and dedication make him the perfect fit for Evansville.

Air Indiana Flight 216

On December 13, the University of Evansville’s basketball team “Aces” were traveling to Nashville to play Middle Tennessee, but Air Indiana Flight 216 crashed shortly after takeoff. Amongst the 29 people on board, only one survived and eventually died that night. Investigation revealed that the crew had made errors while preparing the plane for takeoff which led to the disaster.

Triumph Through adversity

The book narrates the story of University of Evansville and their basketball team that fell victim to a plane crash. The story focuses on how the university recovered and rebuilt the team after the tragedy. In the wake of the plane crash, the university had to cancel the season and recruit a new head coach. The committee appointed Dick Walters, who had experience in assembling new teams. Walters faced the challenge of respecting the memory of the dead while recruiting new players. Walters managed to assemble a team of 16 players that the community welcomed. The team struggled initially but showed promise by January, which was due to the most promising players recruited by Walters. The team completed their first full Division I season with a 13-16 record. The story highlights the power of resilience and triumphing against adversity.

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