The high school football season started this week both on the field and in the movie theater. When the Game Stands Tall stars Jim Caviezel as Coach Bob Ladouceur of De La Salle High School in Concord, California. The De La Salle Spartans had a 151 game winning streak that ended at the beginning of the 2004 season.
The movie is about the end of the streak and the test of character it provided for the coaches, players and their families. Some used the experience to learn and grow. The movie’s “villain,” the overbearing father of the star running back, is exposed as a selfish fool who seems to care more about a trophy than about his son’s well-being.
Some of the characters are based on real people while some of the characters and events are fictional. The coaching staff and the Ladouceur family are real. Most of the players are fictional, as is the overbearing dad. There is one notable exception. A player named Terrance Kelly is a real person.
De La Salle High School is a Catholic school run by the Christian Brothers The teaching order was founded by St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle and is sometimes called the French Christian Brothers to differentiate them from the Congregation of Christian Brothers, another teaching order which is sometimes called the Irish Christian Brothers. I was taught by the latter group at my high school in New York.
In the movie, it didn’t matter which religious order ran the school. There isn’t a priest, nun or brother in sight. Although the Catholicism is watered down, the Christianity is not. In addition to coaching, Ladouceur teaches a religion class. He quotes the gospels of Luke and Matthew when teaching his students. The players are shown reciting the Our Father on two occasions. There is a quick shot of a crucifix, but it is shown from the back, not the front.
I don’t recall hearing the word Catholic in the film at all. A player who took a purity pledge with his girlfriend mentions the Baptist church he attends. Later in the film there is a scene showing Ladouceur speaking in a Baptist church. That scene is true to life. During the credits, they show video of the real Bob Ladouceur delivering the same eulogy as Caviezel’s portrayal of him.
Although the film is a little slow at the beginning as you try to learn the characters, the pace picks up during the off-season leading up to the streak-breaking loss. The on-field football action was exciting to watch but the real message of the movie is about building character and showing love for one another.