Making the Grades
Sports stories, especially ones about the underdog, are as common as corn in Kansas. Yet when they're told with passion (and a great soundtrack), they are one of the movie industry's most inspiring genres.
In Remember the Titans, producer Jerry Bruckheimer tackled the racial tensions that erupted on a Virginia football squad during the early era of school desegregation. Now in Glory Road, he hits the hardwood with a historical tale of black players integration into collegiate basketball. Based on events from the sport's 1966 NCAA season, the story focuses on the gutsy moves one determined coach makes in leading his interracial team to the final championship against the country's top-rated contenders at the University of Kentucky.
A position at Texas Western (now University of Texas at El Paso) looks like a promotion for Don Haskins (Josh Lucas), the former coach of a high school girls' squad. But with little to no recruitment funds and a dismal winning record, his chances of signing any top players are minimal. Nevertheless, he accepts the challenge, relying on his tough-minded tenacity and formidable spirit.
After failing to catch the attention of any high scorers at a recruitment meet, Don approaches Bobby Joe Hill (Derek Luke), an African American player who has been passed over by the other schools. With nothing to promise, except a chance to play, Don ultimately convinces the boy to sign up. Then the coach and his assistant Ross More (Red West) hit the highway, stopping in black neighborhoods along the way to scout out potential players.
When the bus finally rolls back into El Paso with a line-up of African American hoopsters, a wave of worried whispers ripples through the school administration and community boosters. On the court, an uneasy and suspicious relationship develops between the players and their white teammates when the squad is threatened with a loss of school funding. Outside of the gym, the new recruits endure racial slurs and personal attacks from some of the locals.
However, Haskins doesn't sit on the bench looking for approval from anyone. Demanding hard work, discipline and grit from all of his players, he knows the only way to overcome the swell of prejudice is with a cohesive and winning team. Setting down strict rules and harsh penalties for breaking them, the coach begins to mold the beleaguered Texas Western Miners into a respectable squad.
With only brief profanities, the biggest penalty in this script goes to the repeated portrayals of drinking by the young athletes who face relatively minor consequences for their infraction of this team rule.
Despite the hostile climate in the community and the overall unrest surrounding interracial integration in sports, these athletes rise above their mistrust of one another and work to build an unbeatable team. Focusing on skill and heart rather than color, they and their coach set out to win a season and end up changing history.