In 1944 at the height of World War II. Brownwood Texas, like just about everywhere else, war seemed to consume most waking moments. Sports, especially football, was a welcome diversion. There was only one problem – all the men had gone to war.
Marjorie Herrera Lewis’ debut historical novel, “When The Men Were Gone,” brings to life the story of the town’s high school football team, and the woman who took on the job of coaching.
Herrera Lewis, a longtime sports writer and the first female journalist assigned to the Dallas Cowboys beat, says the story came to her one day during a visit to the allergist. Her nurse made a comment about her football-inspired t-shirt and told Herrera Lewis that she too was a fan, along with all of the females in her family, because their great-aunt had been a coach during World War II.
“The minute I heard that, I knew I was going to write this story,” Herrera Lewis says.
The novel is based on the true story of Tylene Wilson, who would have been 114 years old, Monday. Wilson grew up with football, something that brought her closer to her father. Herrera Lewis says the book was originally supposed to be a biography, but when she realized Wilson’s story had mostly been lost in time, she didn’t want to let go of these special details about this revolutionary woman, so she decided to write a novel instead.
“The story is actually written in first person, so I actually take on the persona of Tylene,” Herrera Lewis says. “And Tylene in real life really wanted to be a mother. She and her husband John wanted to have children really badly but it never happened for them. So that is how I wrapped the story. But, that is part of what is the impetus for her desire to take these young men that would leave for war if they didn’t have the opportunity to play football– she wanted to give them the rest of their childhood.”
Being a revolutionary figure herself in the 1980s, Herrera Lewis says she was no stranger to pushback.
“In fact, even when the pushback was difficult at that time for me, I am glad I experienced it because it gave me more insight later, all these years later, to tell Tylene’s story,” Herrera Lewis says. “I did know she had pushback form the stories I heard from her family.”
Herrera Lewis says are clear parallels between her own life and Wilson’s, along with researching Wilson’s story, has inspired her to new adventures of which she had never dreamed, such as combining her experience as a sports writer and college professor to become a football coach at Texas Wesleyan University.
“I never thought about becoming a coach,” Herrera Lewis says. “It is not something I grew up wanting to do. But, by doing the research on Tylene and then writing this novel I just got very motivated to do it and try it myself.”