The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.The true story of a newly appointed African-American coach and his high school team on their first season as a racially integrated unit.
Like "Hoosiers" this is a true story and it is not just a story about sports but a strong story about race. I probably appreciated it more than most because of my background I connected to the movie. During the 1940s I attended schools which were well integrated and students of different races and cultures existed harmoniously. To a large degree, it was because the high school had a very successful football program in which unlike almost all of the other schools, minority athletes were welcome. In my junior year we went undefeated and won the State Championship and the team is still considered the best high school team of all time. The only time the team came close to defeat was in the State final when we played another well integrated team.
Consequently the community while generally middle and upper class except for its minorities was well integrated. As a result although I knew racism existed, I never encountered it in my community. But then I began to see its ugly head. First, the All-American end on our team, a superb athlete, was denied scholarships both to USC and Stanford because neither school accepted minorities. I had always wanted to go to USC but because of what USC did to my friend I turned down its offer of a scholarship the next year as I did to Stanford which I considered a snob school then as I do today.
But my college was cut short when the Korean War began and I was in the service. I was sent to bases in the South and I spent much of the next thirteen years in the South witnessing how bad it was for the blacks and I was involved in the civil rights movement in the South which got me into a lot of trouble with my military superiors.
During my tours in the South I became head coach of a football team at a Southern base. Filled with ex-collegiate stars and some pros, we regularly played Division I colleges and universities. However, because I had black players on my team I couldn't schedule games with any white southern colleges. Instead we scheduled one black college and several state universities in the mid-west.
Some critics have compared the summer camp at which Washington as Coach Boone brought the blacks and whites together as a team as like a Marine Boot Camp but everyone missed the subtlety of this. I went through Boot Camp at a time when the military was just integrating and we had southern blacks and whites as well as a mix of races from other parts of the country in my platoon as well as all classes. It didn't take very long for us to become as one unit. The first part of boot camp is sure hell and the reason for it is that it reduces everyone to the lowest common denominator of misery and you quickly learn that the only way to escape that misery is to work together. This is just the way Coach Boone made it work.
What I liked about this movie is that it showed how all this played out. Most moviegoers today are not really aware of how bad racism was in 1971 but this movie illustrates it well. Even though the movie has a few corny moments and the actors playing the roles as football players look old for high school, these faults are minimal and do not detract from the power of the film.
- Mar 13, 2006