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Every School Needs a Coach Carter
February 8, 2006
by Tony Zizza

Every once and a while, a movie comes along that delivers a message we may not want to hear. However, it's always a message that we need to hear. A message, that if we were to truly embrace it, could change the course of our lives forever.

I had the recent eye/mind opening pleasure of watching Samuel L. Jackson star in such a message driven movie. The movie? Coach Carter. Every school needs a Coach Carter. Someone that refuses to accept failure because that's just the way it's been for thirty years. Someone that sees strength in both the individual and the team. Pride. Respect. Discipline. There is something to be said about consistency, promise, and rules with a purpose.

You don't even need to be a basketball fan to be deeply moved by Coach Carter. All you need is to have a heart big enough to see that people can change. We are often told that it's next to impossible to compete with teenage angst, and you just have to wish for the best. Let your children find their own way. Be their friend first, a parent second. Who are you to judge?

It is this kind of (non) thinking that results in high school students turning into nothing more than adult children. Survivors of lax parenting, and more often than not, a close relationship to an antidepressant drug. When parents and their children openly reject hard work, pride, respect, and discipline - they are giving up on life.

Coach Carter would have none of this. He took on a high school basketball team that went 4-22 the previous year. He took on a culture at the high school where only fifty percent of the students even graduated. He took all this on for a measly $1,500.00, but of course, it wasn't about the money. It was about turning boys into men. He made them sign a contract that went outside the regular "low" standards that were in place. Coach Carter was nothing short of being a creative genius, a man of unwavering principle. A hero.

What I truly enjoyed about this film was Coach Carter's insistence that his players could and should earn at least a 2.3 grade point average - a C+. After all, for the student-athlete, playing basketball is a privilege, rather than a right. At first, his players and their parents were furious. Outraged. Once you got past all their yelling and whining about Coach Carter having real expectations that had to be met, I bet if you got inside their little minds you would hear a little voice cry: ("Why isn't it enough that my boy just pass?") And you wonder why, again, some seniors in high schools all accross this country graduate not as proud men and women, but as lazy adult children.

A scene that sticks in my mind is when the Richmond school board actually voted to lift Coach Carter's gymnasium lockout of his undefeated team for what else, but largely failing grades and missed classes. Coach Carter did not waver from his initial message to his players, and subsequently their parents, that school work comes before throwing the rock around to your sweaty team mate. In other words, you have a duty to sweat first in the library, then you can go out and sweat on the basketball court. What's wrong with this message?

Take a look around. Think about how many parents would rather watch American Idol, than sit with their own flesh and blood at the kitchen table and "hit the books." Think about how many parents would rather have Zoloft babysit their child, than actually get involved with their school work. Think about how many parents think it is everyone else's job to parent their child, but if the expectations and standards are too rough, than everyone else failed their child.

Now, at the end of Coach Carter, the Richmond Oilers did not win the big basketball game on the court. However, they won the ultimate prize in the biggest game in their lives. They became men. They finally allowed themselves to feel the feeling that if held on to year after year, could propel them to college and beyond. The feeling? Self pride. That pride of working your hardest as both an individual and a team player. That incredible pride of knowing within and without, there was nothing really more you could have done.

Every school needs a Coach Carter. Every high school student and parent in this country ought to watch this movie and discuss it over dinner. If you don't think so, ask yourself why high school students are given prescription drugs to "make it" though high school. Why high school students are too often more afraid of taking standardized tests than they are of getting in a car with a drunk buddy. Why county school systems have to spend more of our tax dollars providing even more tutoring for high school students so they can have some chance of passing the dreaded high school graduation tests.

Pardon the cliche, but as we get older, we are always grateful for teachers and coaches who did what we at first hated them for - pushing us. If you as a parent do not push your children to better themselves when you can see their impending failure before your eyes, don't call yourself a parent.

Life is a game. You can't change that. What you can change is the decision to be a winner or loser. Take a cue from Coach Carter and set standards for your child. Make them sign a contract. Make them excel. Who cares if they won't be your friend.

You're not their friend. You're their parent.

Zizza serves as Vice President for the State of Georgia for the non-profit organization, Parents For Label and Drug Free Education.

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