By Grant Cousineau
Janson Mancheski used to play quarterback for the Green Bay East Red Devils, where he won the award for best athlete at his high school and a football scholarship to St. Norbert’s College. The complement he recalls most from his high school days: “good in the huddle,” which is what coaches call players known for being cool and collected in the face of adversity. For being reliable and trustworthy. Leaders.
These are the things high school senior Janus Mann, too, is known for, in Mancheski’s 2018 young adult novel, The Scrub.
In a way, this book is almost a memoir, taking place in the same school, in the same city, parts of it drawn from Mancheski’s own experiences, but put into a modern setting. Having spent his life in Green Bay, Mancheski’s latest novel was written with deep passion and personal memories – not to mention rich Green Bay Packers lore – in a way only he can tell it.
Mancheski’s father was a Hall of Fame football coach for Green Bay East who once played for Tom Hearden, the man who nearly became the Packers head coach in 1957 just after Lambeau Field was built. Hearden would have taken Mancheski’s father with him as an assistant coach, if Hearden hadn’t suffered a stroke that same spring. Instead, they hired Rob McLean, who went 1-10-1 before being replaced by none other than Vince Lombardi the following year. Janson and his father collaborated to retell Hearden’s story in a historical fiction novel titled Shoot for the Stars, released in 2014, shortly before Janson’s father passed away.
Like that book, The Scrub was clearly written from the heart. As Kirkus Review put it, it’s a “rosy, feel-good sports tale,” about a quarterback facing adversity, learning about friendship and leadership. In it, Janus has recently lost his father. His mom and sisters move to Columbus, Ohio to get a fresh start while Janus stays behind in Green Bay to live with his grandmother and finish out his senior year. With a good record, but not playing their best, the Red Devils are coming up on a pair of important games in their season: one against their same-city rival, the Preble Hornets, and the other against the undefeated Sheboygan Golden Raiders, a team stocked with All-American athletes and Division I scholarship prospects.
To deal with the grief of losing his father, Janus “talks” to the ghost of Earl “Curly” Lambeau through a ten-inch statue his dad had given to him the Christmas before he passed away. Through this, and the thirteen-foot statue outside Lambeau Field, Janus communicates with the Packers legend, speaking to him through prayer-like conversations.
Mancheski writes about the town and the Packers not only as a son of the city, but as a fan filled with nothing but love, stopping by familiar Green Bay stops like Frank and Pat’s, Hagemeister Park, and Old City Stadium. He writes with reverent prose, like this:
The afternoon traffic is picking up. I feel a strong connection whenever I ride along these North Side streets. This part of the city is where Curly was born and spent his youth. Curly—and my dad, many years later—both attended East High. Where I go now. You can’t help but feel the wash of football tradition. Especially when the air turns cool in October and November and the painted leaves begin to drift down from the high tree branches.
Between games, Janus keeps tabs on his best friend and his coach’s only son, Barnaby, who was diagnosed at an early age with ALS. He also befriends Asha Silver, who has platinum hair, plays the Indian flute, and looks after her alcoholic, former-boxer dad. Through these relationships, Janus tries to keep his own struggles in perspective while doing his best to help his friends with theirs.
As an accomplished local author, Mancheski’s won a pair of Writer’s Digest awards, as well as the Sharp Writ Book Award for his first novel, The Chemist, back in 2010. In addition to The Scrub and Shoot for the Stars, he’s written a trilogy of crime novels, all set in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Come see Janson Mancheski on Sunday, April 22nd at 10:00 a.m., for his speaker session “A Detective and a Killer Walk into a Bar,” where he’ll be talking about his mystery novel trilogy, as well as his writing process, his latest book, and will stick around for a signing afterward.