By Michael LeCompte
For kids growing up as sports fans perhaps the only thing better than playing or watching sports is reading about them. Since the 1960’s Matt Christopher has written perhaps the most well-known sports stories for children. His tales of athletic triumph and heartbreak are staples in elementary and middle school libraries. For some of us it was a combination of Christopher’s sports books and Hardy Boys’ mysteries that saw us through the book report requirements of school.
The oldest of nine children Christopher was born in Bath, Pennsylvania in 1917 and was a natural athlete, excelling in every sport he tried throughout high school, especially soccer and football. When he graduated from high school in 1935 he played semi-professional baseball in Ontario with the Smith Falls Beavers. However he soon realized he couldn’t consistently hit professional pitching and a knee injury forced him to retire.
In 1940 Christopher was married and eventually had four children. He worked full-time for General Electric, but never forgot his passion for writing. Later he would say that his love of writing came from winning a prize in a short story contest at about the age of 17 (there were 200 winners and he came in 191st).
He wrote a play and a detective story in his spare time that he sold for $5 and $50. After that initial success he wrote a detective story a week for forty weeks, sold a few short stories, and wrote twelve novels (all of which were rejected by publishers).
Like any number of the athletes he would later create in his fiction Christopher was undaunted by his early failure, though, and continued to write in his free time. In 1954 his big break finally came, when at the urging of the General Electric branch librarian, he wrote The Lucky Baseball Bat, a children’s sports novel. Although he only made $250 from the book it launched his prolific career as a children’s author.
By 1963 Christopher was able to retire from General Electric and write full-time. His books chronicled virtually every sport from lacrosse and dirt bike racing to volleyball and every sport in between. Some of his most beloved novels dealt with baseball and football, though, such as Wild Pitch, The Catcher With A Glass Arm, The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, Tough To Tackle, and Crackerjack Halfback. Throughout his illustrious career Christopher wrote more than 100 sports themed children’s novels.
Although he passed away in 1997 the Christopher family still oversees the production of books by various authors under the trademark of Matt Christopher.