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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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Is There an App For That, Yet?

November 6, 2013

la84_sl_110613_HLG_DNA_Baby_msnbc_comFor a simple $169 a Boulder, Colorado, company will conduct a DNA test on your young athlete and tell you what sport he or she should play.

Fun schmun! Why have your kids waste time on an activity that they weren’t BORN TO PLAY!

From KDVR.com:

[The test] looks for variants in each of the two ACTN3 genes. The company claims a variant in both copies means a genetic advantage in endurance sports like long distance running.

One variant, they say, means you’re best suited for mixed pattern sports that use strength and endurance like soccer or cycling.

According to the company, no variants means a kid is better suited for sprint, power and strength sports like football or weightlifting.

“It’s a test that’s really used for assessing where an individual might be best suited for a sport,” said Mike Weinstein, founder of Atlas Sports Genetics. “If it turns out that they are say an endurance athlete, then that may be what they are more prone to be good at, and that may be what they want to be going into as a sport.”

Matthew Taylor, a medical geneticist at CU School of Medicine is not so sure:

“If you are looking at it for which sports should I choose? Which one would I be better at? Could I compete at a higher level in this versus that? I think that those data just are not there,” Dr Taylor said.

Nothing much has changed since MSNBC.com’s 2009 report on the same company.  Atlas Sports Genetics still is in business and parents still are using the service … well, there has been a $20 increase on the price of the test:

Like more than 200 other parents to date, Hilary and Aaron Anderson paid $149 to Atlas Sports Genetics — a Boulder, Colo. company — for a sneak peek at their kid’s athletic horizons …

… But the Andersons also understand one more thing about the test: It is drawing fire from scattered coaches, therapists and genetic experts who worry some parents will misuse the data and that the young science will inject even more pressure and politics into childhood games.


Helmet Choice Has No Impact on Concussions

October 29, 2013

la84_SL_102913_brain_injury_ research_instituteDespite claims to the contrary a recent study has determined that the brand of football helmet a youth athlete wears makes little difference when it comes to concussion prevention.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Health experts have some bad news for high school football players: There is no particular type or brand of helmet or mouth guard that will keep you relatively safe from a concussion.

The companies that make helmets and mouth guards often claim that their own products can reduce players’ risk of a sports-related concussion or lessen the impact of a concussion that does occur. These manufacturers cite “laboratory research” that purports to show one brand is safer than others, and a group of researchers wanted to see if they could verify such claims, according to a summary of a presentation they made Monday at a national meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And after a young athlete suffers a concussion, the decision to return to the classroom is almost as problematic as the decision to return to play.

Again, from the Los Angeles Times:

After a child has a concussion — whether under the Friday-night lights or in a jungle-gym accident — the return-to-play deliberation has gotten plenty of attention. But there’s mounting evidence that returning to the rigors of academic activity too soon also can slow healing and exacerbate symptoms. Yet parents, patients and physicians have gotten scant advice on how to manage a child’s return to learning after a concussion.

For the first time, a new report in the journal Pediatrics systematically addresses that deliberation. The report underscores that, for a child with mild traumatic brain injury, the noise and chaos of school hallways, the eye strain of classroom instruction and the mental calisthenics of homework and tests can tax the brain at a time when its energies are needed for healing.


SL Interview: Director Josh Greenbaum and His Film on Youth Golf

October 9, 2013

la84_SL_101013_Short_GameHow young is too young for competitive sports?

That is one of the many intriguing questions that director Josh Greenbaum addresses in the course of “The Short Game,” a feature-length documentary that chronicles the lives of eight elite youth golfers as they compete at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, N.C. The annual three-day tournament is considered to be the largest in the world for players 12-and-under; the film focuses on the action before and during the 2012 tournament.

The eight subjects in the film are youngsters from South Africa, France, China, the Philippines, and the United States. All of them are either 7 or 8 years old. Interspersed with footage from the tourney and interviews with the children and their parents are interviews with golfing legends: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez and Annika Sorenstam.

The result is a fast-paced film that is funny and affecting. It is also a film that will serve as a cautionary tale for parents, coaches and children alike — especially those who would dare to follow in the footsteps of Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie.

“The Short Game” is Greenbaum’s first effort as a director of feature-length documentary films. He grew up in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and attended Cornell University (with a year abroad at Oxford University). He worked at a TV station in Park City, Utah, where he directed an hour-long documentary about a 100-mile mountain-bike race in the Wasatch Mountains, before attending the graduate film program at the University of Southern California. He and his wife are the parents of 15-month-old twin girls.

Behind Greenbaum on “The Short Game” is an experienced Hollywood brain-trust that includes executive producer David Frankel (director of “The Devil Wears Prada”), music composer Mark Mothersbaugh (founder-lead singer of DEVO), executive producer John Battsek (producer of “One Day in September,” which won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2000), and executive producer Justin Timberlake (singer-actor-erstwhile golfer).

“The Short Game” has made the festival rounds — it won audience awards at the SXSW and Maui film festivals — and recently enjoyed a brief theatrical run. It premieres via Netflix in December.

SportsLetter spoke to Greenbaum recently from his home in Southern California.

–David Davis

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A Concussion Care FAIL

October 9, 2013

In what the Sports Legacy Institute is calling “this year’s worst example of high school concussion care” a high school wrestler at the Illinois High School State Wrestling was allowed to continue to compete despite showing obvious concussion symptoms.

From SportsLegacy.org:

On February 16, 2013, a high school student-athlete named Cody Minnick, then an undefeated sophomore at Coal City High School (Coal City, IL), competed in the Illinois High School State Wrestling 1A Finals. On a takedown less than 20 seconds into the match, Minnick takes a hard blow to the head, struggles for several seconds to continue, and then gestures to the official to stop the match.

He’s then given blood time while he lies face down on the ground, not moving, for over two minutes. Minnick is surrounded by an extensive team of what appear to be athletic trainers, coaches, and officials. Four minutes after the injury, Minnick is able to stand for a balance assessment. On the first attempt he fails the test, nearly falling over, which is a positive sign for a concussion. However, he is allowed to continue the match against all published medical guidelines and Illinois state law.

Blood time, indeed.