You don't have to be an avid basketball fan to appreciate "Something to Cheer About," a beautiful and inspiring documentary about the Crispus Attucks Tigers, the first all-black high school team ever to win a state championship - and the team that changed the face of the game forever.
Crispus Attucks High School was an all-black institution that was itself conceived and born out of racism. It was established in Indianapolis in 1927 by the Ku Klux Klan as a means of keeping public schools in that city segregated along racial lines. It is gleefully ironic, then, that such a place would, a mere two or three decades later, have become one of the key focal points for the civil rights movement in the world of sports.
Director Betsy Blankenbaker has assembled a number of the key players from that period (mainly the early to mid 1950's) to reminisce about their experiences both as teammates and as pioneers in the cause of social justice. Of course, these boys didn't set out to change the world; they just wanted to play basketball. Yet, fate decreed a special place in history for them, and they were more than equal to the challenge.
Blankenbaker fills in the background with historical data, photos from the period, and grainy footage from actual Tigers games. These, together with the many thoughtful and reflective interviews given by the players and various supporters of the team, help to record a fascinating era that seems almost like ancient history to many of us living today, yet which took place only a brief half century ago. The movie shows how, in their own modest way, the Tigers became instrumental in breaking down racial barriers in the city, even if the progress itself was painfully gradual, halting, and slow-moving at times. Let's face it, nothing succeeds like success, and the extraordinary playing of that all-black team went a long way towards opening minds and changing attitudes in that community.
The movie ends with a scene at an NBA halftime show in which a handful of the original, now-aged Tigers are brought onto the court and honored for their legacy both as players and as individuals whose actions changed their community and the game of basketball forever. It is a moment guaranteed to leave you with a tear in your eye and a lump in your throat. Something to cheer about, indeed.
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