Making the Grades
Every team would rather win than lose. But nobody wants to be the team that brings a winning streak to an end—especially one that has lasted for 151 games.
From 1992-2004 the De La Salle High School Spartans won every football game they played under the tutelage of Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) and his assistant Terry Eidson (Michael Chiklis). Ladourceur’s record still stands as the all-time winning coach in California’s high school football arena. Those are stats that could easily go to one’s head. Yet when one team member announces he would rather die on the field than let his team down, Coach Ladourceur’s says the better choice might be collapse on the field—since it is only high school football. To his credit, Bob is man who is more interested in teaching boys to be honorable and accountable men than bringing home trophies.
However, after his team secures their 12th season championship, Bob suffers a heart attack brought on in part by smoking. Five stints later he is under doctor’s orders to take a break from his coaching responsibilities. It is devastating news to Bob’s son Danny (Matthew Daddario) who is heading into his senior year on the football field and wants his dad there to coach him. Bob’s wife Bev (Laura Dern), on the other hand, is ready to have her husband off the gridiron and home spending time with her and their other children.
For the first 45 minutes of this biographical movie, the script bobbles around setting up scenes, introducing several story lines and marching out a whole squad of characters before it finally gets to game time. If you can be patient, the rest of the film is remarkably inspiring.
That first lost is devastating—for the team and for their fans as well. Unfortunately it brings out the ugly in a lot of them, including one father who takes the loss as a personal affront to him. Still Bob, who also teaches at the private Catholic school, appears unscathed. When his team fumbles to a second loss, he takes the opportunity to help the players put it in perspective before they face off against the number one team in the country.
From a statistical perspective, Bob’s career record (399-25-3 at his retirement in 2013) is extraordinary by any measure. Yet what is even more impressive is his leadership as members of his team face the death of one of their own, deal with an abusive parent and learn to share their emotions. Bob is a man who expects not a perfect performance, but a perfect effort. He is a man who asks his players to make commitments to improve and then holds them responsible. He is a man who does more than coach football. He builds boys into a band of brothers.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about When the Game Stands Tall.
How does the coach promote a “team over individual” attitude in his players? While that attitude is important, what individual efforts do the players have to make for the success of their team? One of the players is on track to break a record. Can a team be successful as a unit and still try to help single players achieve records?
What reaction do the players and fans have to the team’s loss? Is this sort of setback necessarily a bad thing? Can we choose how we react to life’s experiences—whether we see them as good or bad? What lessons can players learn from losing? How does it test characteristics like resilience and fortitude?
A character (set in 2004) mentions that with the Internet any kid can be a star. How has our ability to broadcast our individual successes allowed us to present ourselves to the world? The character in this movie sees this as having some negative connotations. Would you agree?
Why was the coach in this movie encouraging these football players to share their emotions? What effect did this activity have on his team? Why do you think this was the case? Do you feel it’s wrong for men to reveal their feelings? Why do you think some of us have come to accept a double standard for men and women speaking from the heart?
This movie tells the story from the view of the Spartans. Here’s how the game played out from the perspective of the Long Beach Poly team.