The Movie Diary
February 25, 2015

Running on empty

Running on empty

By Dom Cioffi

My son’s fifth grade basketball team was just beaten in the first round of the playoffs to officially end their 2014-2015 season. Like all defeats, this one was difficult to swallow. But as any athlete will likely admit, losing doesn’t have to detract from all the great experiences enjoyed during the season.

Of course, my son’s basketball season was nearly derailed before it even got started.

The trouble began back in October when I first asked him about basketball: “Has the teacher made an announcement?” “Have you received any flyers?” “Are your friends talking about teams?”

All of my questions were met with a confident “No.”

And then one day my son walked into our living room and casually stated, “Uhhh, Dad? You know how you’ve been asking me about basketball?”

“Yeeeessss,” I replied nervously.

“Well, I guess they sort of, kind of, may have already formed teams.” He then looked at me with that kind of little boy look that fully expects to be yelled at.

Instead, I just stared… but inside, my stomach was churning and the thoughts in my head were screaming, “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!”

I gathered myself after a moment and then calmly stated, “I’ve been either playing, coaching or reffing basketball since I was in the fourth grade. I’ve never missed a season – not one in all those years. And now you’re telling me that this season has already started and we’re not signed up?”

My son could tell that the magnitude of an already bad situation had just jumped to an epic level, so he remained dead-quiet, knowing that any answer would not be the right answer.

The next morning I started furiously making phone calls in an attempt to rectify the situation. It was bad enough that he might miss out on an entire season, but I was equally pained thinking I would miss out on the opportunity to coach him – something I’ve done since he first started playing.

I finally made contact with the right people and through subtle stroking and manipulation, managed to get my son onto a team. However, they already had a coach – a gentleman about my age whom the commissioner described as “a great addition to the league.”

So, at his first practice (which was everybody else’s second practice) I approached the coach (who was dressed in a spanking new warm-up sweat suit) and introduced myself and my son, explaining how we were a late addition.

I then decided to throw caution to the wind by stating, “Listen, I’ve been coaching for years and I’d be happy to lend a hand if you need any help.”

Suddenly the coach’s eye’s lit up. “You know how to coach basketball?” he demanded excitedly.

“Sure, I’ve been doing it for years,” I replied. The next thing I know, he’s shoving a clipboard into my hand and telling me that his prayers have been answered. Two minutes later and he’s introducing me to the players as the head coach.

I was both shocked and surprised, but I was not about to question my good fortune.

I found out later that this kind gentleman had been coerced into coaching because none of the other dads were interested. His plan was to Google “coaching basketball” and take it from there. He described me showing up in the gym as “a gift from the Lord” and later told the other parents that I would “take them to the Promised Land.”

Talk about pressure.

Unfortunately, our team was not blessed with talent and we struggled throughout the year, ending up with a solid .500 record. I had visions of a tournament upset, but apparently God had other plans.

In the end, my son had a great season playing and I had a great season coaching and together we got to share countless special moments together, which was exactly what I wanted.

This week’s feature, “McFarland USA,” is the story of another athletic season and how the members of one particular team changed an entire community with their own special moment.

Starring Kevin Costner, “McFarland USA” is the true story of Jim White, a coach at a predominately Mexican-American high school who started a cross country program after he noticed the uncanny running ability of many of the students. In a short time, Coach White took a rag-tag group of boys and turned them into elite runners.

While this story was well worth telling and the film does a fairly good job tugging at the heartstrings, it still had too many digressions into the cliché arena for me to truly stay onboard.

Any fans of running or previous members of their own track teams will find some common ground to connect with. However, discerning moviegoers will feel cheated by the lack of credibility in the delivery.

Check this one out if you’ve got an athletic youngster in tow. Otherwise wait for the DVD.

A winded “C+” for “McFarland USA.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at moviediary@att.net.

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