"Hoosiers" is about a small-town Indiana high school basketball team, set in 1951. The movie is loosely based on the Milan High School team that won the 1954 Indiana state championship. It stars Gene Hackman as Norman Dale, the new coach in town with a shadowy past. I saw this movie on the big screen when it first came out in 1986. I remember it was at one of those "dining theatre" places where you could actually be served drinks and food at a table while you sat back and watched the flick. (Do those actually even exist anymore, or were they, like the mullet, a staple only of the '80s?) I loved "Hoosiers" the first time I saw it, and apparently I am not alone, as it was ranked number 13 by the American Film Institute on its "100 Years... 100 Cheers" list of most inspirational films. And it gets an 87 on Rotten Tomatoes -- not bad.
My son Aiden was born later that year, and when he turned 12, I decided it was time to tutor him in sports movies. In addition to "The Natural," "Field of Dreams" and "Chariots of Fire," I sat and viewed "Hoosiers" with him. Seeing it as a parent, I appreciated it even more, literally stopping the film about a dozen times to point out a scene or some piece of dialogue and ask him, "OK, son, now why did he just do that? ... What point is the coach trying to make here?"
There are so many scenes in this movie that are great teachable moments for kids that I can't write about them all here, but these are a few of my favorites.
At his very first practice session with the team, Coach Dale meets his players, and there are only seven of them. He gathers them in a huddle and starts to address them, describing what he expects of them and how he will run practices. Two of the boys aren't even paying attention to him; they laugh and talk to each other. He tells them to go. He does this even though it will only leave him with five players for the season. The lesson? He only wants players on his team who will show respect, even if it means going with a bare-bones crew.
In his practices he insists that his players pass the ball four times before taking a shot. In their first game they follow this but fall behind in the score with only a few minutes to go. One player decides to take matters into his own hands and stops passing the ball, instead shooting it right away. He starts making buckets and the team starts to catch up. Coach Dale pulls him off the court anyway. A few minutes later two teammates foul out, and there is only one player left to put on the court -- that boy. He gets off the bench and trots out, but Coach Dale calls him back: "Where are you going?" He makes him sit back down, and they play with only four boys and lose. The fans are furious. Coach Dale doesn't care. The lesson? It is more important to have players on your team who listen to the coach and follow the plan than it is to win.
There is a boy on the team, Ollie, who truly cannot play basketball, but in a crucial game he is the only one left to put in. He is fouled, and when he takes the shot, it doesn't even reach the rim. The opposing team fouls him again a few minutes later, and he has two foul shots to take this time. If he makes both, they win and move on to the semifinals. Coach Dale addresses the team on the bench and says, "Now after Ollie makes his second shot, I want you all to get back quickly on defense," and then he turns to Ollie and says, "And you will make those two shots...." The lesson? By expressing confidence in this boy in front of his teammates, the coach gives him the confidence he needs to succeed. And he does.
In the championship game, they play in a college-sized arena, and the coach can see how intimated they are by this after playing in their tiny high school gym all season. He bring them out to the court and asks for a tape measure, then proceeds to call out the height of the rim, the distance to the foul line and several other dimensions. "Aren't these the same lengths and heights we have played all season?" he asks the boys. The lesson? Don't be psyched out by the surroundings and trappings of a situation; be confident in your abilities and in what you have achieved thus far.
That 12-year-old boy is now 24; in fact, in the interest of full disclosure, he is the recently-hired movie critic at this very publication, The Huffington Post. But I have another son now, Liam, age 8, and recently I did the same thing with him that I did with Aiden. I rented "Hoosiers" and watched it with him and my wife Marybeth, stopping it at key scenes. Same great film. Same great life lessons.
If you are a parent, watch this movie with your child and do what I did. You won't regret it.