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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Glory Road

Actual 1966 Texas Western Team
As Portrayed in the movie
Glory Road

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Martin Luther King, Junior's Birthday than going to see the film Glory Road. What an experience to share with my family and a packed movie theater. Especially in the heart of basketball country, Kansas.

I have a special interest in civil rights movies. My son is African American; I grew up in a predominantly Black community, and currently live in a mixed race community where I pastor a church. The plight of the poor and minorities has always been something I have had to deal with. Living in the midst of those situations and communities has given me a passion for the subject. So
Glory Road was a movie I had looked forward to seeing since the advance trailers.

I also have an interest in sports films. My uncle was a great basketball player and I played football and soccer. I currently coach wrestling and am involved in my son’s life as an athlete. My daughter's life as a quality soccer player before that included my involvement in sports for many years, too many to count. Inspirational stories that look at the commitment of athletes are something that I have always felt many can learn from. The limits to which top-level athletes push themselves are something few understand unless they have entered into this type of lifestyle. To be a top-notch national-level athlete or national champion is something that not even many athletes fully understand. If they do, they realize the uniqueness one must have to reach the top echelon of any sport. To have the obstacles of racism and discrimination at the back door of one's effort is something that even fewer can relate to, unless they lived through those' times.

Even prior to my own son's adoption, we honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. While living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we would always attend the MLK parade, one of the largest in the nation, and various events commemorating the day and the celebration of the contribution Dr. King. No movie in recent years has portrayed the struggle of African Americans as well as
Glory Road.

Being a basketball fan, I already knew the history of the Texas Western (later UTEP, later the University of Texas at El Paso) basketball team. I recall actually watching Coach Haskins in later years coach against the University of Tulsa where I had season tickets, and later on watching his son coach. Coach Haskins was, and is, as far as I am concerned, a man of integrity who greatly contributed to the game of basketball. He didn’t just contribute to the game of basketball, though; he contributed to the advancement of the game as we know it today. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and was named the most important coach of our lifetime by CBS Sportsline Fans for a reason. It is arguable who contributed more to the game—him, or Coach Wooden from UCLA.

Glory Road wonderfully portrays the game of basketball prior to the mid 1960s. A game would on occasion feature Black players, but was still rooted in the prejudice that many Americans had towards Black athletes. Many colleges didn’t recruit Black players due to their prejudices and stereotypes. Coach Haskins, given unbelievable odds, decided to recruit the best players despite their color to have an impact and to win games. He was a coach that wanted to win, despite the University's own desire to follow racial stereotypes.

Coach Haskins, coaching a girls' high school team prior to the start of his tenure at Texas Western, was given the job as head basketball coach more for the desire of the University to have someone look out over the athletic dormitories than they did for their desire to win basketball games. This was a financial sacrifice for Haskins as well, since the University's salary was only $6,500 per year. Coach Haskins would have none of it though, and made tremendous sacrifices in order to give Black athletes the opportunity to play basketball. He would go out of his way, assisting athletes in the classroom, as well as finding ways to create unity among the Black and White athletes on his team. There was a price to pay, for many of the athletes and Haskins family.
Glory Road helps us understand not only their sacrifices, but the sacrifices of many during the period.

Glory Road is a tribute to a man (and his family) who made sacrifices to bring about racial acceptance and understanding on the basketball floor, thus contributing greatly to the hopes and desires within the African American community. The beauty of this movie is not just the sacrifice that Haskins made, but the sacrifice the team made, including White players. Individual sacrifice for the good of the whole is illustrated here as well as any movie in long time.

While movies have dealt with the political turmoil of the civil rights era, we have seldom seen movies that will reach the sports community. Not since
Remember the Titans has sports been used in a movie to bring about better understanding of the struggles of the African American community. Glory Road is already having an impact, not just with the basketball community, but the sports community. From football players to wrestlers, the sports world is talking about this movie and the impact that these individuals had on the sports world.

Glory Road hits the nail on the head. The basketball sequences, while not using top NBA or Collegiate superstars, get it down with the actors and athletes they use. The filmmakers realize the importance of the game sequences, but more importantly, the importance of the story. The acting, story, and situations are so good that even a sports fan like me found myself drawn into the story. Not since Hoosiers has the basketball community had a movie to stand up and cheer in like they do with Glory Road. One of the strengths of this movie was illustrated to me in that I was watching the movie in a crowd of die-hard basketball fans. Die-hard Kansas University (KU) fans. There is a semifinal game in the movie that I was wondering how the audience would react to, especially since in the movie, and in real life, the game was played against KU. It is the first time I have been in a predominantly KU-friendly environment where the crowd applauded someone other than KU. I’m not talking about symbolically applauding the Texas Western team, I am talking about actually applauding the outcomes of the games as they were portrayed on screen.

Technically this movie is very good, from the direction—which was surprising since it was a first time theatrical effort by director James Gartner, who made his niche directing television commercials—to the sound, which keeps the audience in the period of the movie. I was very pleased with the effort and was impressed with the fact that Disney was back on track with putting out a quality live-action feature that would appeal to the entire family.

I had a wonderful conversation with my son after the movie and I think he actually has a better understanding of the civil rights movement as a result of being able to relate to a basketball player who has to run lines, work hard for his team, and goes through tremendous obstacles to obtain something they have desired.

Our conversation after the movie was highlighted by what happens in the credits. We have had many surprises in the past by sitting through the credits, and we had a pleasant surprise halfway through the credits of Glory Road. The makers of the film show interviews with those who lived the story including Pat Riley, then a player with the Kentucky Wildcats, Coach Haskins, and various players. There is actual game footage that was a joy to watch. For those leaving the theater early you will miss out on one of the best parts of the film. This lets you know the story was true, and many who lived it are still around to talk about it. If you missed the sequence, it is worth attending the movie again to see it.

Glory Road is not a perfect movie, but it is a very good movie. One that I will see again and eventually own. There are numerous spiritual points that are addressed, but none more strongly presented than the need to love and accept all people, despite their race, nationality or position in life. The struggles and sacrifices that changed the course of America are portrayed in Glory Road. Thankfully, Glory Road helps illustrate those sacrifices for us. As a parent who strives for my son to understand his roots, I say thank you. I say thank you to those who lived the story and thank you to those putting this wonderful story on film.

On a scale of 1-10, for the perfect 10 minus the two overtimes against Kansas in the Midwest Regional Finals in 1966, a very enjoyable and deserving 8


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