08 April 2013

Undefeated (documentary film review)

"If you build yourself and handle yourself this way and have character, you get to play football and winning will take care of itself because young men of character, and discipline and commitment end up winning in life and they end up winning in football.  When you flip it and the foundation of what you are doing is football and you hope all the rest of that other stuff follows, then you think that football builds character, which it does not; football reveals character." --Coach Bill Courtney, Manassas H.S. Football Coach

I first heard about this documentary film because it won the Oscars and one of the co-producers was T.J. Martin a WWU graduate from Bellingham, WA.  I immediately went to my Netflix queue and added it.  I was interested in the story of an inner city football team that rose above their circumstances to change the history of their school record.

The quote above is from head coach Bill Courtney and opens this inspirational documentary with a theme that carries through; character, discipline and heart.  This film plays out like a real life Friday Night Lights (the TV show) with a caring head coach and supporting coaches and teammates who need inspiration and a place to start over.  Although the film focuses in on a few key players on the team, these students use not only football but the team to rise above their circumstances and help build a life for themselves in the future; one that many of them may have never given any thought to.  The coach is on one hand real (expresses frustration, disappointment, anger and exasperation) with the students, on the other hand tells it like it is to pick themselves up, to rise above their circumstances, to not be selfish and to look out for the betterment of others.  He goes to a students house when he hears that they aren't at school since they are discouraged;  he and another coach get a tutor for another student to help him study for the ACT test so he can get a passing score to go to college;  another student receives a free-ride to an college he chooses by a private donor who was inspired by his story.

I will say that I was inspired;  it reminded me why I want to be a teacher and why I love corny movies like Dangerous Minds and Stand & Deliver.  It feels good to make a difference and to make an impression that points people in the right direction in life.  I cried when the team succeeded and when the students made choices that were influenced by good.  And I cried when the coach, after the team made the playoffs for the first time in school history of over 110 years, hugged his players and cried with them and told them he loved them.

I highly recommend this film.  I don't know anything about football and I cannot say I'm even a huge football fan but I am a fan of making a difference and seeing the importance that personal relationships and respect and discipline and character can have on the changing course of a someones life.  It is not hard to see why T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay won the Oscar.  They delivered on a polished, inspiring, well edited and impactful story in the heart of a broken down and beaten down team and football community.  While I could say there are a few things I'd like to see, I was highly impressed at the final product and will do my best to pass the word along.  I truly hope for coach Courtney and all the players at Manassas H.S. that their lives will be changed both now and forever for the better.

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