I recently had the opportunity to screen Disney's new inspirational family movie, McFarland, USA with my family. The movie is based on the 1987 true story that follows novice runners from McFarland, an economically challenged town in California’s farm-rich Central Valley, as they give their all to build a cross-country team under the direction of Coach Jim White (Kevin Costner), a newcomer to their predominantly Latino high school.
While this movie is considered an inspirational sports drama, and you might wonder how a movie about running could engage you, I think producer Gordon Gray explained it well here. “These movies are never really only about sports—the sport is just the canvas on which to tell the journey of the characters,” says Gray.
The synopsis explains, Coach White and the McFarland students have a lot to learn about each other but when White starts to realize the boys’ exceptional running ability, things begin to change. Soon something beyond their physical gifts becomes apparent—the power of family relationships, their unwavering commitment to one another and their incredible work ethic. With grit and determination, the unlikely band of runners eventually overcomes the odds to forge not only a championship cross- country team but an enduring legacy as well. Along the way, Coach White realizes that his family finally found a place to call home and both he and his team achieve their own kind of American dream.
I took my three sons to see this movie and all of them enjoyed watching the movie. And what resonated with me was the movie's tagline and the story that is told throughout the course of the movie, "Champions can come from anywhere." Yes, that is right they can! In McFarland, a school without a cross country team, or the resources to purchase uniforms, shoes or equipment to start a team, not only started a running team but became champions. Because of a coach who saw the potential in some of the boys who had to run from the fields to school and back again every day to help their families pick crops. And an entire town and the people in it were brought together and inspired in big ways. These sons of immigrant workers, and their families who only saw one option for their kids-to continue to pick crop fields- who didn't dare to dream or believe they could do anything else but work in the fields, became champions. They over came the odds, they learned more was possible and won the state meet. I cannot think of better messages I'd want to share with my kids than many that were woven throughout this well told story that happened in McFarland.
A big part of the story is the coach moving with his family to McFarland, from a previous town that was predominately white middle or upper class families, to an immigrant town of Latino families. One of the early scenes in the movie is the White family going to get dinner after arriving at their new house, and the only place in town is a small restaurant and the only food they serve was tacos and other similar fare. The family was obviously used to more American fare and burgers as they had no idea what to order. At first, the family has a hard time in the town, as the culture is drastically different from what they are used to. But over time, the community and the Whites help each other and find out that this place, that at first was very different, is filled with loving, passionate people who come together to help each other. It's a town and culture where family comes first and is cherished. Later in the movie, the Whites have an opportunity to move and soon realize where they have landed feels like home.
If you are looking for a greatr family movie, that reminds us that hard work, dedication, and effort do pay off. And allow us to reflect on the importance of family and the communities we choose to be part of, in a time when we are inundated with negative stories in the press, continually connected to our devices, its a good reminder to step away from all of that and celebrate the message that "Champions can come from anywhere" and of course be anyone. The movie shows how one coach changed a community for decades and that had a big impact, as many of the runners, came back to work in the same town and even the school after college. It reminds us that our roles as parents, teachers, coaches, and so many other roles do make a difference, that often we won't realize until time passes. Here's to telling stories that matter and making a difference in our own communities and homes.
The McFarland Cross Country team went on to capture 9 state cross country titles since 1987.
by Kristin Fitch