Glory RoadBy Jane Louise Boursaw
MPAA Rating: PG
The year is 1965, and the town is El Paso, Texas. A young white basketball coach named Don Haskins (Josh Lucas) gets his chance to coach a Division I men’s basketball team at Texas Western College. But Haskins faces several obstacles: his coaching experience is limited; Texas Western has never boasted a winning basketball team; and he’s having trouble recruiting players.
But none of that matters to Haskins, because he’s passionate about the game and driven to succeed. Since the school has no recruiting budget, he puts up his own money to round up the best black players in the country (putting black players on a college basketball team was virtually unheard of during the 1960s) and bring them to El Paso. At the time, Texas Western's black students totaled all of one percent.
Haskins runs the team like a drill sergeant, making them "burn holes in their shoes on the court" and teaching them fundamental basketball, rather than the fancy street ball they’ve always played. He tells the team there will be no girls, no booze, and no partying, so of course, the first thing they do is go looking for girls in a bar. Their punishment? More drills. When one of the players fails in school, Haskins brings his "Momma" in to make sure he stays on course.
Throughout the season, everyone associated with the team faces obstacles. The black players endure physical and emotional abuse, especially during away games. Haskins, who’s moved his wife and three kids into the dorm because the job pays so little, receives threatening letters, and the white players have to re-think some deeply held stereotypes.
But Haskins never backs down, telling the team, "Never let your anger get the best of you," "If you quit now, you quit every day for the rest of your life," and "Your dignity is inside of you; they’re trying to take away your dignity." He challenges the team to win and silence the nay-sayers.
The highlight of the movie comes when Haskins decides to start all five black players for the final NCAA championship game against the all-white Wildcats of the University of Kentucky. This move not only helps to change the history of basketball, but also the history of our country.
This is a feel-good movie that should be required viewing for every high school sociology class. It’s a great history lesson about the challenges faced by African-Americans and the people who befriended and encouraged them. It also shows how one passionate person really can make a difference.
NOTE: Be sure to stay through the credits and see interviews with the real-life players, including Miami Heat head coach Pat Riley, who played on the University of Kentucky team.
PRESCHOOLERS (ages 2-5): Little ones will be bored with the basketball theme and won't understand the social importance of this movie. Best to pop in a more appropriate DVD, like Get Active with Stinky Shoe and Coach LaRoo, a fun movie that’ll get your little couch potatoes moving.
GRADE-SCHOOLERS (ages 6-10): There’s a whole lotta basketball in this movie, so if your kids are into the game, they’ll probably love it, especially those 9 and older. It also teaches kids to follow their passion and not back down in the face of adversity. The PG rating covers some intense basketball scenes and racially-charged moments: the black players’ hotel room is ransacked and a racial slur is written on the walls, they’re pelted with food and pop while entering a stadium and one team member is beaten up in a restaurant bathroom. It’s the kind of true-to-life humiliation that African-Americans experienced at the time, not always found in the history books.
TWEEN / TEEN (ages 11+): This movie was awarded the Truly Moving Picture at the Heartland Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why. It’s not only one of the greatest basketball stories of all time, it’s also a story of endurance, courage, and breaking down unspoken barriers. The story rings so true that sometimes you feel like you’re watching a documentary, rather than actors playing roles. Josh Lucas is reminiscent of a young Kevin Costner, only more intense, and since it’s a Disney movie, the PG content is well done. This is a great flick to take your tween or teen to see, and also a great catalyst to discussions about race and what makes people different and special.Jane Louise Boursaw is a freelance journalist specializing in the movie and television industries.