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"It's giving every kid a time during the day to shine..."
In my constant quest for relevance, I've discovered this little gem. City Lax: An Urban Lacrosse Story is another heart-warming and award-winning tale that illustrates beautifully how critical sport is in bringing hope and uplift to those who have very little else to look forward to.
Set in Denver's inner city, beyond the "latte-buying" elites headed for Aspen, the documentary takes us into the lives of a group of 12-year-olds who have experienced gang violence, loss of loved ones by death or prison, and poverty. It's an environment where many won't graduate high school; one youth worker laments that they're "losing kids by the boatloads." But with the help of a teacher (no, not Michelle Pfeiffer), this particular group discovers the "white sport" of lacrosse. While this might seem cliché, they find the inner strength and resilience to pursue their dreams in the process.
"They liked it because it's like football; they get a stick and a ball and can whack each other," shares one of their coaches jokingly. George Moore, one of the first African-American lacrosse players, admits it wasn't easy for him to fit in back in 1973, nor will it be easy for the kids he's now coaching.
"When they call you the n-word, just knock them on their ass, then help them up," he chuckles.
But racism isn't really explored as a barrier to success. What is clear is that they need to overcome the prevalence of failure all around them.
City Lax follows the team's inaugural season, we witness their attempts to win, while getting to know six teammates.
Gaghe, who develops a signature lacrosse spin, has trouble controlling his anger. His mom is in prison and he's been doing poorly in school. Without many positive role models, his teacher, Eric Myhren becomes a key figure.
"If we can get him under control, he'll be an All-American," says his coach. "If we can't do that, he'll be incarcerated or he'll be dead."
Jaden, with a smile that "lights up the world," is a natural at the game. Not so much with his school work either, which hampers his chances of winning a scholarship -- possibly his only chance of making it out of the cycle of poverty and violence that has already landed his brother in jail.
His best friend, Trevon, on the other hand, manages to excel academically and on the field and makes it into an exclusive private school. Nonetheless, the path to success is far from guaranteed for either of them.
In one poignant scene, the team plays with a group of Native youth and their coach explains that lacrosse was first played by the Indigenous peoples. The kids relate to one another, recognizing that they are all outside the mainstream.
Another young player, Kei'Zuan, finds comfort in both the game and poetry. His reality is bleak; his father was murdered, and his younger brother died when he was very young. His mother is determined that her son will find salvation in the game.
"I'll be the coat that lies over the mud so that he can step over if that's what it takes ... I'll find him a mentor, or tutor or put him in whatever sport I can think of... I'm going to do whatever it takes to make sure I don't lose my son."
Two girls are on the team, which is atypical. We don't get to know Joanne, Jaden's sister, and Jada, as much as the others, unfortunately. That's the main weakness of the film. What lacrosse brings to the two girls' lives isn't made as clear as it is for the boys. And yet, their talent and skills shine throughout the film, as they score goals and give other teams a run for their money. We do know, however, that lacrosse is also a possible ticket out of poverty for them; without lacrosse, their families cannot afford college.
The film culminates in the Colorado State Lacrosse Tournament where the team, last in the standings, manage to perform surprisingly well with some exciting twists.
The film's original soundtrack of urban beats is an added bonus to a film that leaves you smiling and hopeful. Gold, for sure.
To suggest films for review, email Amira@rabble.ca or tweet her at @AmiraElghawaby
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