Home Editorials Champions? – Barry Koplen

Champions? – Barry Koplen

Before I bought my ticket to see the movie, Champions, I had reservations about seeing it due to my thoughts about its topic. It seemed to me to be more than an ordinary movie because the main characters were probably playing themselves rather than assigned roles.

Although I wasn’t surprised to find that I, alone, was the audience, I sensed that the movie hadn’t attracted attention it probably deserved. For the next two hours, I didn’t just watch the movie; I experienced it.

Because the main character, the coach in Champions, Woody Harrelson, has impressed me with his previous work, I softened my movie critic’s approach to the film. Harrelson’s character, due to issues regarding relationship issues and insubordination, had but one alternative to spending time in prison.

His assignment was to be the basketball coach for a team of brain-injured and brain-damaged young people. Having taught similar children years ago, I recalled their often-innocent world view and their profound ability to love and trust their mentors. Their attitudes were positive; they were never jealous of children who were regarded as having unimpaired brains.

That’s why, as I watched the movie, I cried as often as I cheered. Coach Harrelson, like me, had lots to learn about the members of the team entrusted to him. Indeed, just as my special students had been to me, they were his teachers.

Obviously, that was the intent of the movie, to depict the process of his transition to competent understanding. It wasn’t difficult to imagine how carefully Harrelson must have considered his role, as an actor, as he learned to master his character’s behavior and his character’s perceptions.

But he did.

And, although I left the movie, feeling exhausted and appreciative, I believed that I had spent two hours wondering whether I would have met a similar challenge as well as the Coach eventually did.

I mention that because, in my book, No Gold Stars, I describe the work I did with a few of my students who were similar to the members of the Coach’s team. But I only had a few and I was able to work with them one-on-one.

By the movie’s end, I was neither elated nor disappointed; I had been a witness to an extraordinary production. If there were any way to do it, I would offer hugs to Harrelson and his entire cast.

What a special movie they had made!