Making the Grades
For much of the country, a 1970's plane crash in West Virginia was a tragic story on the evening news. But for the community of Huntington, West Virginia, it was much, much more.
The accident claimed 75 lives, including 37 members of the Marshall University's varsity football team, most of the coaching staff, the game's announcer, the school's athletic director, several prominent citizens and five airline crewmembers. Twenty-eight local children lost at least one parent in the burning wreckage of the chartered DC-9 and a whole community was left reeling and stunned.
Understandably, in the aftermath, university president Donald Dedmon (David Strathairn) wants to discontinue or at least indefinitely suspend the athletic program. But for the injured team captain, Nate Ruffin (Anthony Mackie) and three remaining players who missed the ill-fated flight, the idea of canceling the upcoming season is unacceptable. Rallying the student body, Nate challenges the school officials' decision.
Still not everyone is ready to see the Thundering Herd take to the gridiron again. Concerned academic administrators, inconsolable classmates and grieving parents feel it's too soon to field a team. Among them is distraught father and institution board member Paul Griffen (Ian McShane) whose son Chris (Wes Brown) was killed. He refuses to support Dedmon's appointment of Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) as a new head coach.
Even Jack realizes the position isn't an enviable one. His arrival on campus is a reminder of everything the community has lost. Yet in spite of the locals' cool reception, the coach, whose personality is often as loud as the plaid sports jackets he wears, understands the necessity of rebuilding not only a team but also a town.
Following a flush of sports films like Glory Road, Invincible and Gridiron Gang, this movie looks like old news. However, the script offers more than just first downs and quarterback sacks.
We Are Marshall deals with the difficult steps of grief: denial, anger, guilt, and acceptance. The movie follows player, coaches, parents, and community members as they to come to terms with the ordeal.
While the script contains some profanities and one depiction of drinking in the dorm, the story focuses on teamwork, the meaning of success and the inevitable sweat factor needed to accomplish tough tasks. For this under aged, undersized, inexperienced team, winning means more than the points on the scoreboard, it means playing until the final whistle blows. And that's a worthwhile message for kids caught up in the numbers game.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about We Are Marshall.
When Jack Lengyel needs help with a new play, he approaches the coach of a rival team for pointers. What does he gain from being willing to ask for something? In what ways does the opposing team show support for the Marshall squad?
Grief is messy. How does each of the characters deal with their own personal heartache? What emotions does each person have to work through? Why does it take different amounts of time for everyone?
Coach Lengyel asks his team to play until the final whistle blows. What does he mean? Why is perseverance an important part of achievement? Is scoring the most points in a game the only way to measure success?