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    Go Tigers

    Stars in stripes

    The Tigers in the documentary "Go Tigers!" are the local football heroes in small-town Ohio, where the team is the most important institution in town.


    In much the same way that 1994's "Hoop Dreams" did, "Go Tigers!" holds a mirror up to high school athletes and produces a reflection of hopes and ambitions that often have little to do with sports itself.

    Directed by: Kenneth A. Carlson.
    Featuring: Dave Irwin, Danny Studer, Ellery Moore, Frank Cicchinelli, Rick Shepas, Bob Rohrer, Al Hennon, Jacqueline "Tiger Lady" Rush, Tiffany.

    Related links: Official site
    But while the former documentary looks at how basketball represented the only future for the inner-city kids interviewed, "Go Tigers!" shows us a middle-class town stuck stubbornly in the present, revolving around the current high school football team, the current players, and the current games.

    Few of the Massillonans we meet here seem to think much about what happens to the kids after graduation. One of the players even assures us near the end of the film that we could return to Massillon years from now and find it much the same — rallying around the Tigers. It's existentialism by way of football.

    "You get a whole generation of kids that don't know what it's like to beat McKinley, and that's scary."  
    — Adult fan in Massillon, Ohio  

    The conflict in the movie centers on ebbing funds for Washington High School, home of the Tigers, and residents' opposition to a tax levy proposed as a solution. Residents feel they pay enough taxes for the school to get by, but school officials warn that, without a budget increase, they'll have to lay off teachers (including one of the Tigers' coaches) and cut programs.

    It's up to the Massillon Tigers to win the season and, by extension, win over the town on the school's behalf. Conveniently, the final game — against the Tigers' longtime rival, Canton McKinley High School's Bulldogs — falls right around voting day.

    Of course, to some residents, losing to McKinley would have cultural as well as monetary significance.

    "You get a whole generation of kids that don't know what it's like to beat McKinley, and that's scary," said one worried adult interviewed for the film.

    No doubt this fellow supports the common practice of Massillon parents holding their boys back a year in school so they'll be bigger and stronger when it comes time to try out for the Tigers.

    We get to know the Tigers, cumulatively the Atlas of the world that is Massillon, as they gird themselves for the challenge of the coming season. We practice with them, party with them (we even get to see one of the players chug too much beer, void it in the least appealing way, and then happily drink some more), join them on the field, and hang out at home with them.

      Go Tigers
    And in the process we get to know a group of young men who are uncommonly self-aware. If their parents, their fellow Massillon residents, and their coaches don't see this life for what it is, at least the players do.

    Whether or not they plan to go on to college or have any plans at all for their future, most of these young men seem to understand that they are part of a local phenomenon that will continue long after they've graduated. Contrast that with the prideful football players you knew in high school, who were confident they would continue to rank first in their peers' and the public's affections when high school was over, and you get a sense of how differently things work in Massillon.

    If a documentary is meant to help audiences comprehend a slice of a life other than their own, "Go Tigers!" achieves that. And it does so without overtly taking sides. But don't expect to leave the theater feeling cheered. Ambivalent and mystified are more like it. Whereas it was easy to relate to the struggles of the kids in "Hoop Dreams," here the goals have a hollow ring to them.

    By the end, you may not agree with the female student (and rare non-football fan) who says "the only sport more pointless than football is rodeo," but you might come close.

    SEPTEMBER 21, 2001

    Reader comments on Go Tigers:

  • former insider   from jeff spicer, Oct 13, 2001
  • Re: former insider   from S. Robertson, Jan 23, 2003
  • Re: former insider   from Debra Costner, Mar 27, 2008
  • Canton   from Jeff Hixon, May 7, 2005
  • Danny Studer   from Pam Stewart, Sep 24, 2005
  • Go north   from badal, Oct 21, 2005
  • GO TIGERS   from troy, May 10, 2006
  • tigers   from Pamela, Jun 29, 2006
  • Massillon.   from Holly, Mar 4, 2007
  • Go Bulldogs   from McKinley, May 10, 2008
  • Re: Go Bulldogs   from John Craddock, Aug 27, 2008

  • Post a comment on "Go Tigers"