In 1961 Fred Engh’s life changed forever when he became the first white student to receive his degree from Maryland State College, an all-Black school. He wasn’t looking to break racial barriers or make headlines. He simply wanted a better life for himself and his family as an accredited teacher – but what he learned during those years would help to guide an extraordinary life.
Engh, founder of the National Alliance for Youth Sports, shares his incredible journey in his new memoir MATCHSTICKS, which Kirkus Reviews calls “thought-provoking memories of a civil rights–era friendship that crossed racial lines.”
In the following Q & A Engh reveals some fascinating insights about his book:
Q: What’s the key message you hope readers take away from your story?
ENGH: I hope readers will take away from the book that there is no wall too hard to climb. If you can envision it, you can achieve it.
Q: Why did you decide to do a book now on this after all these years?
ENGH: When I was young, I witnessed racial incidents that still haunt me today. Those experiences built in me a foundation of hating racist attitudes. Becoming good friends with Bob Taylor, my Black teammate on the golf team, built a friendship at a time when most couldn’t understand. I wanted people to see by reading this book that whatever prejudices they harbored about those less fortunate were no doubt rooted in their upbringing.
Q: How did the experiences you share in the book influence how you chose to lead your life?
ENGH: My experiences on the golf team made it clear to me that the white golf society feared Blacks playing on their golf courses. That experience inspired me to later create a program for ALL young people who were denied the opportunity to learn and play the game of golf – and that’s the Hook a Kid on Golf program that has introduced thousands of youngsters to this great game, all at no cost. And it’s still going strong today across the country.
Q: Was there a life-changing moment for you during this time you write about?
ENGH: There is a moment I describe in the book of hearing the football coach at Maryland State College talking about their physical education program. My lifetime vision became solidified at that moment.
Q: Your experiences on the golf team are a prominent part of the book – how did those shape how you approach the sport now as an avid player?
ENGH: My friend on the team, Bob Taylor, always got on me about being lazy and not willing to give it my best effort. In essence, I credit him for building a fire under me that still burns strong today.
Q: You forged friendships with some special people during this time – who stands out the most and how did that person impact your life?
ENGH: Bob Taylor was my best friend at Maryland State. We had many long personal discussions about life. We rarely talked about race relations. But I obviously never forgot the time he said in his prophetic way that “someday we’re all going to be gray.” I can’t tell you how many times I think about that in today’s world. But certainly my wife, Michaele, had a huge impact, which I share in the book as well.
Q: Is there a moment that you are most proud of in how you handled it when confronted with racism?
ENGH: On our golf trips to compete against other colleges I was the minority. I learned early on that you can get along with others if you focus on making friends from the beginning. And that’s what I did when playing against other Black golfers.
REVIEWS ON AMAZON
“Match Sticks is the story of Fred Engh's journey into a world that he knew very little about. It chronicles his twenty-something years in Maryland as he comes of age and starts down a path of personal responsibility and fortitude. Through a series of serendipitous events, he enrolls at a Historically Black College - Maryland State in 1961, in a last-ditch effort to get his life together. His greatest education comes from an unlikely acquaintance, the star of the football team, who quickly becomes his first and best friend. Being the only white student at his college, traveling through a time when de-segregation was being challenged at every step, and the adventures playing golf on the Maryland State team, transform this underachiever into the great servant leader he was destined to become.”
“In this warmly accessible book Fred Engh’s life is related as a parallel to racial questions that continue to rise – and hopefully grow to improve. The tone of this book is set in the Preface as Fred states, ‘In a time when the Black Lives Matter movement truly matters, why on earth would a white guy write a book about his experiences becoming the first white student to receive his diploma at an all Black college in 1961? Or the first white student to participate in sports at the same Black college, Crazy white guy? …this book is simply about my education at Maryland State College on the Eastern shore of Maryland – and one all-too-short friendship. The education I received may have put me on the right path, but it was that friendship that allowed me to see beyond the color of someone’s skin”’
“What follows is a well-scribed memoir of Fred’s experience as a white lad in a Black college, his setting precedent, and his learning experience as a ‘minority.’ But entertaining and informative as the memoir is, the factor that makes the book so significant is the series of parallel Timelines – from 1941, 1961, 1962, 1963, 2012, and 2020 that provide a continuum of developments in progress in racial and in sports matters that make the book singularly significant as a platform for noting history – and caring bout it. The book is both a fine insight into the impact of sports, sportsmanship, and brotherhood – subjects that concern us all – as well as a thoroughly entertaining memoir. Highly recommended.”
“My husband (who doesn't like to read a whole lot) just finished this book and said it was great, so out of curiosity, I thought I'd read it too. It really captured my attention from the very beginning and kept it to the end with the compelling stories that make up Fred Engh's memoir. His story is a unique one: part history lesson from the first white student to enroll at the all-Black Maryland State College in 1961, part friend story, part love story and part essay on what is going wrong,and has been going wrong, with race relations and understanding in a diverse America. It's a sad story at times, but Fred's message of the importance of having an opportunity to play team sports, develop friendships, and reach personal goals despite cultural obstacles, is very convincing. It's a quick read, and a fun one at that. I enjoyed every word and am happy to have read this moving and inspirational book. I highly recommend it!”Fred Engh Matchsticks Golf Memoir
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