Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hail to the Team

"Anyone working for individual glory will fall far below the level of first string material."

Thus warned Les Hipple after taking over the sports program in Marion, Iowa, in 1945.

For 20 years he preached the gospel and enforced the rules of team play, turning out 33 state and conference champions in football, basketball, track and cross-country. He coached them all.

When a boy won special recognition from an outside source, such as being named Prep of the Week by the Des Moines Register, Hipple took the young man aside and told him, "Don't let this go to your head. You are being recognized because you play on a good team."

I was raised on Hipple's values, so when I began conducting interviews for this book, I thought of an interesting experiment. I would ask his former athletes to name their three favorite movies. I actually thought the old coach's influence was so strong that some of them would name my favorites as well.

But none did.

So, as one more measure of a coach's influence, here are my all-time favorite movies, in the order in which I first saw them.

1. Battleground (1949), directed by William Wellman.  With Van Johnson, John Hodiak, James Whitmore, Ricardo Montalban and bunch of other good guys. It's to story of a squad of soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division, surrounded by the German army during the Battle of the Bulge.

2. The Wild Bunch (1969), directed by Sam Peckinpah. With William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Warren Oates and other fine western actors. Here, five grizzled outlaws botch a bank and a train robbery, but then assert their honor in a bloody and suicidal shootout with a brigade of Mexican soldiers.

3. Chariots of Fire (1981), directed by Hugh Hudson. With Ben Cross, Ian Charleson and Ian Holm (magnificent as coach Sam Mussabini). This hymn to young manhood follows a group of British athletes to the Paris Olympics in 1924.

Well, I said three movies, but there's a tie for third place. We can't leave out Hoosiers (1986), directed by David Anspaugh.  Set in 1951, its the story of a basketball team that accomplished the nearly impossible.

Coach Hipple wasn't much of a movie fan, but I think he might have liked these.

-- By Dan Kellams