The incredible story of the 1992 Lithuanian basketball team, whose athletes struggled under Soviet rule, became symbols of Lithuania's independence movement, and - with help from the Grateful Dead - triumphed at the Barcelona Olympics.
Marius A. Markevicius
In the early 70s, Cathy Rush becomes the head basketball coach at a tiny, all-girls Catholic college. Though her team has no gym and no uniforms -- and the school itself is in danger of being sold -- Coach Rush looks to steer her girls to their first national championship.
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One of the things really that makes coaching fun is when you tell teenagers "Go do 'ABC'", and they'll look at you and say "Yes, we're going to go do 'ABC'", and they're excited about "ABC", and five seconds later you watch them do "XYZ", and sometimes I'll ask them "Why did you do 'XYZ'?" and they never have an answer. They always look at you like, "Why would you ask a question like that?"
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For my money, "Miracle" (2004) is the best sports movie ever. That's mainly because it's subject matter was the greatest moment in sports history the wildly improbable victory of the United States hockey team over the Soviet Union's in the 1980 Winter Olympics.
My main carp about that film was that it didn't adequately portray to the viewer just how staggeringly great the Soviet team was. Picture a baseball team that featured Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Cy Young, Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan, and a dozen other players of comparable magnitude, all at the peak of their powers, and you'll have some idea of what an overwhelming force the Red Army "amateur" team was. The movie doesn't mention it, but they had made it to the medal round by defeating Japan 16-0, Nederland 17-4, and Poland 8-1, in a sport where typical scores are on the order of 3-2.
The movie may not beat you over the head with the amazingness of the Soviet team, but it did do a terrific job of conveying it subtly. As the game entered the last 2 minutes, with the Americans ahead 4-3, the film shows head coach Herb Brooks discussing with his assistant exactly what to do when the Soviet coach, Viktor Tikhonov, pulls his goalie (a common hockey tactic, a gamble, since it leaves the net open, but it gets an additional attacker on the ice). As the seconds tick away, they keep looking at Tikhonov, who appear frozen, just staring at the game. Finally Brooks remarks, in wonder, "He doesn't know what to do!". And at that point it dawns on you: it's because he's never lost before.
I have many more good things to say about "Miracle" (and I don't even like hockey very much), but here in 2006 I'd like to tout the 2nd best sports movie ever: "The Heart of the Game". And, amazingly enuf, it's a documentary! No famous actors, no huge production budget, no award-winning novel on which to base a screenplay, no opportunity to do retakes if things don't go according to script -- just real life, captured as best as they can by director Ward Serrill and his crew with hand-held cameras over a period of 7 years.
The film follows a girls' basketball team, the Roughriders of Seattle Roosevelt High School, and their quirky coach, Bill Resler, University of Washington tax professor by day and motivator of teenage girls by night. The main subplot for the 2nd half of the film is the struggle of star guard Darnellia Russell (no relation) to gain legal eligibility to play for the team after sitting out a year due to pregnancy. Meanwhile, across town, Garfield High School has a new coach, Joyce Walker, herself a former Seattle high-school star who went on to success and fame at the college, Olympic, and pro levels. The Bulldogs are tall and deep, and their star player, who proudly claims she can take Darnellia to the hoop any time she feels like it, happens to be Darnellia's best friend. And Garfield proposes to take no crap from nobody.
There are about 5 seconds' worth of "X"s and "O"s and not quite enuf action footage for my taste (tho what there is is top-quality camera-work). But most of the film is about Resler's interactions with the girls. (And let there be no mistake, they ARE girls, not women.)
I would say more, but let me leave it at this: if there weren't plenty of evidence that this all actually happened, you'd swear it was fiction. A terrific story, very well told.
And now let me say a kind word for Title 9. This was part of Educational Amendments of 1972 (signed into law by President Richard Nixon), and it prohibited sex discrimination in any education program or activity within an institution receiving any type of federal financial assistance. That notably included athletics.
Here are some statistics of interest:
In 1997, women received 41% of medical degrees, compared with 9% in 1972. In 1997, women earned 44% of law degrees, compared with 7% in 1972. In 1997, 41% of all doctoral degrees to U.S. citizens went to women, compared with 25% in 1977. Prior to Title 9, there were 32,000 women on intercollegiate teams, today there are 150,000. Prior to Title 9, there were 300,000 girls on competitive high-school teams (or 1 in every 27 girls), now there are 2.78 million (1 in every 2.5).
I am a huge fan of girls' high-school and women's college basketball (which goes a long way toward explaining why I'm so fond of this movie). And the fact of the matter is that there isn't a woman playing basketball at any level today who remembers a time when it wasn't considered a perfectly normal and natural opportunity available to the female half of the human race.
But I do.
Thank you, Title 9!
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