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SL Interview: “We Could Be King” Director Judd Ehrlich

July 3, 2014

Dick's Sporting Goods "We Could Be King" - 2014 Tribeca Film FestivalFor years, students at Martin Luther King High School considered Germantown High School to be their archrivals. The two schools, located about a mile apart, vied for athletic supremacy in northwest Philadelphia.

That changed in 2013.  Deep budget cuts in the Philadelphia school district forced the closure of 99-year-old Germantown High (as well as about three dozen other schools in the area). The two schools were forced to merge; Germantown High students transferred to King, their green-and-white colors now purple and gold.

The city’s budget crisis also impacted youth sports programs throughout the district. After-school sports activities were suddenly in jeopardy, part of a nationwide trend that has seen some $3.5 billion cut from public school sports programs over the past four years, primarily in low-income neighborhoods.

In the summer of 2013, as the start of classes at King High and the opening game of the football season approached, the situation was in flux. The head coach of the Cougars, Ed Dunn, was a math teacher who had just been laid off. Dunn was planning to coach the Cougars as a volunteer, without any security that he would be rehired, even as he was trying to figure out how to peacefully combine the rosters of Germantown and King.

There was one other obstacle: King High’s football team had not won a game in two years.

This was the scene that awaited director Judd Ehrlich when he went to shoot a documentary about King High’s football team. The film, “We Could Be King,” chronicles the dramatic struggle, and redemption, of the Cougars during the 2013 season in ways that Ehrlich could not have anticipated.

The movie is particularly timely because, on a broader level, it tackles the issue of budget cuts that are becoming commonplace and injurious for after-school sports programs in public high schools across the United States.

Ehrlich is the founder of Flatbush Pictures in New York City. Previously, he directed “Run For Your Life,” a documentary about New York City Marathon creator Fred Lebow, and “Magic Camp,” a documentary about teenagers attending summer camp for aspiring magicians.

He recently spoke to SportsLetter about “We Could Be King” from his offices in Brooklyn.

–David Davis

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Sports Drinks, Energy Drinks, and Unhealthy Behavior

May 14, 2014

A recent study revealed that adolescents who drank more sports drinks and energy drinks than their peers also had higher levels of physical activity and participation in organized sports, which makes sense.  But, the study also showed that these same kids were more likely to drink sugary soft drinks, play more video games, and try cigarettes.

The study was published online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

From Education Week:

“The observed associations between consumption of sports and energy drinks and these unhealthy behaviors are troubling because they may indicate a clustering of problem behaviors among some adolescents,” the authors conclude. “Given these findings, advertising of sports and energy drinks to youth is particular concerning.”

Concussion-Related Lawsuits in Youth Sports

April 21, 2014

There will be an increase in head-injury-related insurance claims and lawsuits “in a variety of youth sports and non-professional organized sports leagues,” according to an online article that appeared in today’s edition of Insurance Journal.

From the article:

[Robin] Dusek, a Chicago-based attorney, said insurers should prepare for increasing claims arising from players and their families against non-professional sports leagues, including high school and junior high football, soccer, hockey, rugby and lacrosse.

“We live in a litigious culture. There’s more awareness of this as a problem. I think that’s going to cause more people to take action and make them see it a lot of different ways because deep pockets are always an issue with litigation. I think it’s going to be particularly apparent with youth sports, because a lot of park districts and schools will be protected or protected to some degree by governmental immunity, and so they won’t be a viable target for a lawsuit,” Dusek said.

The claims could impact several lines of insurance, according to Dusek. A medical malpractice claim could arise if a doctor failed to properly diagnosis a head injury and allowed an athlete to return to play. A homeowners’ insurance claim could arise as a result of a coach being sued for his or her alleged role in an injury claim.

“Individual coaches may be sued because a lot of coaches will have homeowners’ policies or other umbrella policies that protect them from liability, or protect their exposure to liability, I should say. Doctors who don’t take the necessary steps to make sure a kid doesn’t have a concussion and then it turns out they have a concussion and they play and they get hit again and maybe have a more lasting impact because of that,” said Dusek.


Assistant Coach Suits Up for Her HS Team

January 27, 2014

An assistant coach for the DeSoto County High School girls soccer team in Arcadia, Florida, played alongside her athletes in two end-of-the-season matches.

From the Herald-Tribune (HT):

On Jan. 10, in matches against Lemon Bay in Englewood, Bulldogs assistant coach Juany Gonzalez played for both the DeSoto junior varsity and varsity, the regular season finale for both teams.

The district superintendent and high school principal took immediate action, firing both Gonzalez and Desoto girls head coach Narce Hinojos.

And why didn’t the players say anything?

Again, from the HT:

When asked why the players did not immediately report the situation to school officials, Gary said, “The kids were a little afraid to tell on adults doing the wrong thing.


SL Interview: Not Your Dad’s “Hoosiers.” Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart Look at Indiana HS Hoops

December 10, 2013

la84_SL_121013_MedoraIn November of 2009, New York Times reporter John Branch traveled to the tiny hamlet of Medora, Indiana (population: about 500 people), located about 80 miles south of Indianapolis. Medora is home to the nation’s largest covered bridge, but amidst the shuttered plastic factories and brick plants Branch could find few signs of the Rockwellian idyll of small-town rural life.

“There is little to cheer but for the high school basketball team,” Branch wrote, only to signal yet another death knell: The basketball team “does not win.” The previous season, the Hornets finished 0-22.

Branch, who last year won a Pulitzer Prize for feature writing for “Snow Fall,” his multi-media account of skiers killed in an avalanche, depicted a bleak and depleted town, with a high poverty rate and rampant drug use. Medora, he suggested, “could be this generation’s anti-Hoosiers,” a reference to the 1986 film about the real-life Milan High basketball team that won the state championship in the mid-1950s.

Branch’s article served as inspiration, and foil, for filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart. After reading Branch’s story, they decided that Medora and its high school basketball team deserved a deeper examination. They moved to neighboring Seymour, embedded themselves with the team for six months during the 2010-11 season, and filmed the interaction between the players, their parents, and their coach.

After initial filming Cohn and Rothbart raised over $60,000 on Kickstarter to pay the costs of editing the film. Cohn spent the next year shaping 600 hours of footage into an intimate, moving documentary, with the misadventures of the basketball team serving as a metaphor for the crumbling, yet resilient small town. (The film’s executive producers include actors Stanley Tucci and Steve Buscemi.)

Medora” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and it has been making the rounds of the festival circuit ever since. “Medora” will air on PBS in the spring of 2014 as part of the Independent Lens documentary series.

Cohn and Rothbart are longtime collaborators; they are Midwesterners by birth — they both grew up in Michigan — and basketball junkies for life. Rothbart is the editor and publisher of Found Magazine  and the author of “My Heart Is an Idiot” and “The Lone Surfer of Montana, Kansas.” His stories have aired on “This American Life.” Cohn is a screenwriter and documentary filmmaker who is a senior editor of Found Magazine. He is creative director for 21 Balloon Productions.

SportsLetter interviewed Cohn and Rothbart while they were in Indiana to screen the film there. (Rothbart was only available to answer the first question.)

–David Davis

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