I have to admit, Woody Harrelson is not one of my favorite actors. In fact, the only movie I can think of that he was in is “2012.” He played a whacky apocalypse predictor screaming about the end of the world, all of which happened by movie’s end.
In the new film, “Champions,” Harrelson plays a hot-headed NBA coach wannabe who gets fired from an unknown below semi-pro basketball assistant coaching job after an altercation with his boss. To make matters worse, he is convicted of impaired driving.
Woody Harrelson’s character, Marcus, decides against going to jail and instead spends ninety days in community service as the coach of a basketball team called, “The Friends.” The team is composed entirely of players who live with various forms of mental challenges including Down Syndrome.
Marcus begins his work totally unfamiliar with the struggles conquered every day by his players. As he attempts to teach them how to play the game, the team members individually show Marcus what it means to be a champion.
The movie follows a somewhat predictable plot line with Marcus coaching the team to win after win, leading up to the possibility of playing for the championship. At the worst moment, Marcus learns a real NBA team wants him to join their coaching staff. Just before the Friends’ championship game, Marcus tells them he’s leaving, thinking they will be happy for him. He obviously hasn’t learned anything.
In the final game, trailing at halftime, the Friends tell Marcus he’s not welcome in the locker room. In a moment that brought tears, the team members cheer each other by realizing they are already champions, and always have been.
I won’t spoil the end, but I will say, it’s wonderful.
Sometimes I wonder if I should have pursued working with champions instead of the path I took when I was young. In the process of finishing my master’s degree in counseling, I had to fulfill many hours as an intern, a few of which were completed at “Harmony Hall,” with Lapeer County Community Mental Health, in Lapeer, Michigan. It was the best two weeks of my entire experience. Most of my time was spent just watching amazing people, excited about life, doing what they do, day after day, with an unshakeable sense of accomplishment and a smile.
I don’t know if I have ever been in an environment where I was so quickly accepted as a member of the group as I was at Harmony. There was one big guy, taller than me, and I’m 6’3″, who always gave me a hug. I heard recently that he passed away some time ago. Another loving guy knew every baseball statistic I could ask about, names, dates, teams, averages, and championships. He was absolutely amazing.
There’s another young man I still see once in a while who I first met at Harmony Hall. I’ve talked with him several times. Whenever I greet him with, “How ya’ doin?” he says, “Amen,” and he means it! He always has something good to say.
When I was a middle school counselor, I had the privilege of being around some students who were true champions. There was one young man I just loved. The first time I met him we were on the playground.
“Mr. Parsons, do you think I play basketball better than (he named another student)?” he asked. I was surprised he knew my name.
“Yes,” I said, “I think you play basketball better, but don’t tell him I said that, okay?” “Okay!” he answered. A few minutes later he asked me the same question. I gave him the same answer. That was ten years ago. When I see him now, he still calls me by name.
There was a beautiful young lady with Down Syndrome who came in the office from time to time. I heard her singing, so every time she came in the office, I started singing to her. “Don’t sing!” she would always say.
There are champions all around us, giving us opportunities to learn what it means to be confident, trusting, patient, forgiving, generous, and kind.
One thought on “Reflections on the Movie “Champions””
I worked with champions at Oakdale for 13 years. There were times I was truly amazed and inspired. I have so many memories.