'Jackrabbit' a Must-Read for Tech Fans

Feb. 3, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn | Sting Daily

It takes almost no time to figure out that Bill Chastain is a Georgia Tech man, and proud of it, although he hasn’t exactly put his industrial management degree (’79) to standard use.

Purchase the book

He can talk up a Tech storm, and will in regaling of how he followed his father (Ivy Norman; ’52 civil engineering) and brother (Norman; ’77 IM) to Tech, sent his two children (Carly, civil engineering, ’09; and Kell, management, ’10) behind him. His daughter will soon marry yet another Yellow Jacket.

The Jacket fabric runs deeper still.

Had Chastain followed a more typical path after graduating, there wouldn’t be such a fascinating book about Clint Castleberry, the only former Tech football star to have his number (19) retired by the school.

Chastain is a sportswriter-author. Not many of those have emerged from The Flats.

He wrote for many years for newspapers in St. Pete and Tampa, and writes still for MLB.com, where he covers the Rays.

And … he writes books.

“Jackrabbit,” is centered around Castleberry’s magical freshman season of 1942, and has the blessing of an almost hypnotic backstory.

The basic tale — of the pint-sized freshman phenom from nearby Atlanta Boys High who almost single-handedly led Tech to an 9-0 start after more than a decade of mediocrity on the Flats before going off the World War II and disappearing on a flight near Africa — is known by many Tech fans.

Castleberry, who was able to play that season only because freshmen were deemed eligible for varsity competition because numbers were down due to the war, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Chastain cast a broad light on his subject matter, and chose not to over-write about the young man who was said to run like a jackrabbit, but of that entire single season in which he did it.

Head coach William Alexander was ill in ’42, leaving the team largely in the hands of a precocious assistant named Bobby Dodd. There are likewise many other details unknown to many.

The project began in 2006, and after a series of problems in finding a publisher, it finally saw the light in December. It can be found through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or you can find it here.

“It was a nice time travel. I through it was best to do it as a narrative rather than write completely about Castleberry,” Chastain said. “I happened to have a Tech alumni directory, and I matched names with people who were on the football team.

“Probably 85-90 percent of the people I called were already passed on.” Finding photos was difficult, but not impossible, and Chastain also interviewed former University of Georgia great Charlie Trippi, who played against Chastain.

He caught up as well with Pepper Rodgers. The former Tech star and head coach once idolized Castleberry in part by listening to his exploits by radio when he was still a lad.

Chastain also gathered details of that legendary Boys High squad that was famous for traveling by train throughout the Southeast and routing nearly every opponent.

“I found out [Castleberry] was a gym rat,” the author said. “The coach at Boys High was a man named ‘Shorty Doyle.’ I was fortunate to talk to some people who grew up with Castleberry, and one who played with him.

“A lot of the old Atlanta Journal photos are not at Georgia State. When he was growing up, he got a job sitting on the roof at old Ponce de Leon Field, cleaning up the balls. There’s one picture where you can see had had some serious hamstrings.”

In search of poignance?

Chastain found Castleberry’s widow, Shirley Avey. She lives in St. Louis, and so does her daugther by Castleberry.

“She re-married, and was happy, but it was clear that Clint had been the love of her life,” Chastain said. “She’s a very nice lady. She actually married another Tech graduate.”

If you know of Tech, love it, and long for something literary that veers away from athletic fields, you’re in luck again.

Chastain also authored, ‘Peachtree Corvette Club.’

It’s fiction, although with the setting being a fraternity house at Tech in the 1970s — or, as the brief write-up you can find here suggests, “The Pink Floyd era,” — it’s easy to wonder if it’s not somewhat autobiographical.

“It’s the only thing I’ve written that my mother doesn’t like to read,” Chastain said. “It’s too blue for her.”

Check billchastain.com for more details, including those of his latest book, “Hack’s 191,” the tale of Hack Wilson’s amazing 1930 season in baseball.

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