JEFFERSON — Former Dallas Morning News sports reporter turned novelist, Marjorie Herrera Lewis, stopped by the Jefferson Carnegie Library on Monday to speak about her book, “When the Men Were Gone,” which tells the true story of Texas female football coach Tylene Wilson.
The Friends of Jefferson Carnegie Library hosted the Monday author event with Lewis in order to let readers get a first hand account of what went into the making of the World War II era novel and hear about the real life woman who inspired the tale.
“She was brilliant,” Lewis said of Wilson on Monday. “She was born with rickets and had to have exposure to the sun. Her father took her to a doctor and he said, ‘Too bad she’s not a boy. If she were a boy, I would tell you to take her outside and play football with her.’ Tylene’s father did exactly that and they bonded through football and baseball.”
Lewis said Wilson’s father began consulting area football coaches to learn more about the game so he and his daughter could expand their knowledge of the game and play together.
Both lovers of sports, especially football and baseball, Lewis said she was able to develop a bond with her book’s character.
“I was able to develop a bond because we had similar experiences in life,” she said. “She has a close relationship with her father, a relationship developed through sports. My father played baseball and taught me to catch his fast ball and curve ball. I knew early on I wanted a career related to sports.”
Both Lewis and Wilson faced adversity in their chosen fields of sport due to their sex.
“My first sports editor said I’d never make it in the business,” Lewis said. “Tylene had to recruit her players from the newspaper and other sources because none of the other male coaches would have anything to do with her when she would show up at recruiting events.”
Just as Wilson in real life earned the respect and dedication of her Brownwood football players, Lewis too earned respect in her chosen field of sports journalism, even being referred to as the “best sports writer in the NFL community,” by an NFL magazine.
Though Lewis is a journalist, a chance meeting with Wilson’s niece at a doctor’s office soon led her to motivation to become a novelist.
“I was wearing a University of Tulsa T-shirt when I walked in to the doctor and Wilson’s niece was in there and saw my shirt. She said, ‘my great aunt was a football coach in Brownwood during World War II,’” Lewis said. “We wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been wearing that T-shirt.”
Lewis said after hearing Wilson’s story from her niece, she knew she had to write the woman’s story.
She originally sought to write Wilson’s biography but soon realized Wilson’s football records were destroyed in a fire during the 1960s.
“I realized I didn’t have a biography, so that’s why I went back to school to learn how to write a novel,” Lewis said. “Tylene was a real person and I felt I had an ethical obligation to learn to do the best I could to write the novel.”
To read Lewis’ book about Wilson’s life as a female Texas football coach, visit her website at https://marjorieherreralewis.com