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BOOKS: The League of Pain pits Idiots versus Morons

“The League” tells the story of 14-year-old Wyatt Parker overcoming his fears of bullies through a hidden, unsupervised football team. (Photo courtesy of Jean Patrick)

By Jean Patrick

Republic Book Columnist

What do you do when you’re 98 pounds, the target of a bully, and want the admiration of a girl?

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If you’re 14-year-old Wyatt Parker, you play football.

“The League,” by Thatcher Heldring, is the story of Wyatt’s attempt to play the game.

But it’s not easy. Wyatt’s parents have signed him up for golf camp. Also, they’ve forbidden him from playing football — even flag football through the rec program.

This leaves Wyatt little choice. With the help of his older brother Aaron, he joins the “League of Pain,” a group of high school boys who meet in a hidden area of the park to play without pads or parents or any kind of adult supervision.

There are just two teams: the Idiots and the Morons. And they play to win.

Although Wyatt figures out how to ditch golf camp and play football without his parents’ knowledge, Wyatt still has problems. Namely, he’s afraid of getting hit. But when Aaron knocks him down hard, Wyatt’s fear of pain, bullies and conflict begin to disappear.

The only problem with “The League” is that the plot doesn’t really start to move until the book’s midpoint when Wyatt joins the league. However, the strength of the second half makes the slow start easy to forgive.

At this point, high intensity plays and Wyatt’s growing confidence take over. As he explains to his mom (after getting caught), it was “the first time I wasn’t afraid of people who are bigger than me.”

So does the book advocate lying and disobeying parents? Good question. Wyatt firmly believes that it is the only way he can counter his parents’ control. However, his actions do cause unexpected consequences.

“The League” is Thatcher Heldring’s third book about sports. He is also the author of “Toby Wheeler: Eighth-Grade Benchwarmer” and “Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate.”

“The League.” By Thatcher Heldring. Delacorte Press, 2013.