When the Game Stands Tall is a sports film that will appeal even to non-sports fans. It tells the story of De La Salle High School Spartans and its coach, Bob Ladouceur, and how he helps prepare his teen players for life in the real world beyond high school. Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Digital Productions Inc.

Teaching life beyond the football field

  • August 30, 2014

Genius looks like Bob “Coach Lad” Ladouceur, who led the De La Salle High School Spartans into the football history books.

De La Salle is a Roman Catholic high school for boys in California, that set a record with a 151-game winning streak. The secret to that success can be seen on screen for moviegoers (the movie opened Aug. 22). Based on a true story and the book by Neil Hayes, When the Game Stands Tall proves that a worthy sports film is not just about sports, but what the game can teach you about life.

“Winning a lot of football games is doable,” says Coach Lad. “Teaching kids there’s more to life? That’s hard.”

Jim Caveziel (The Passion of the Christ) plays Ladouceur, an introverted, deep-thinking and religious family man who makes it his mission to prepare the boys in the football program for the world beyond the field. In the process of teaching them humility, brother-hood based in love, discipline and emotional openness, he teaches them to win. More than 80 of La-douceur’s players have received college scholarships and 10 have gone on to play for the NFL.

In the film, tragedy strikes. One of his star students, Terrence “T.K.” Kelly, is shot to death just before heading to college on a football scholarship. Then Coach Lad suffers a heart attack that brings him close to death and leaves him questioning how he has lived his life. He returns to a team struggling to maintain its sense of brotherhood.

After a decade of wins, the 2004 team finally loses, leaving team members feeling defeated and low in morale. In typical Coach Lad style, he reminds them that it’s only high school football and they should never define themselves by their losses. But as the coach works on turning these boys into men, the culture of instant celebrity, self-centredness, excess pride and boastfulness is working against him. It helps that Coach Lad is also the boys’ religious studies teacher.

When the Game Stands Tall is a sports movie even non-sports fans can love. At times, it may feel a little like a made-for-TV movie, but it’ll take film lovers on an emotional ride.

And as a side effect, the film makes the case for why team sports can be a strong force for good in helping teens determine the direction in which their lives should go, assuming the right person is leading them to victory on or off the field.

Coach Lad, in real life as in the film, had the support of his coaching staff, but the best lines still belong to him: “Growing up is painful. It’s not easy. But that’s what our program is about, in case you haven’t figured it out. It ’aint about the football. It ’aint about scoring touchdowns. It ’aint about the win streak. It’s about moving you in a direction that will assist you and help you grow up, so when you can take your place out in the world and out in our society and out in our community, you can be depended on.” 

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