Archive for Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wristen: ‘CityBall’ a must-see

November 13, 2008

The Interscholastic League as I knew it in high school was the place where Central’s Derek Hood grabbed about 20 rebounds per game.

The IL was respected on the basketball scene, primarily because Hood was as frightening of a force in the middle that Kansas City had seen in recent years.

The doors had to be locked and fans turned away early because there was so much interest when Hood’s Central (Mo.) High squad squared off with Tyronn Lue and Terry Nooner’s Raytown at Municipal Auditorium in the 1995 Missouri state quarterfinals in a game that Central won 80-73 in double-overtime.

Hood went on to play basketball at Arkansas and then in the NBA, but he’s one of the last bright spots most of us know of from the Interscholastic League.

You’ll see a few highlights of the infamous Central-Raytown game in “CityBall”, a new documentary on MetroSports that made its television premier on Wednesday. It also will air occasionally on the channel throughout the coming weeks and can be viewed on MetroSports’ new on-demand channel. In addition, “CityBall” and the “Border War” documentary will show back-to-back all day on Thanksgiving.

“CityBall” made its public debut Thursday night with a viewing at the Plaza Library. I had it penciled in on my planner for weeks after first viewing the trailer. The documentary is produced by Stephen Spiegel, a MetroSports employee for the past nine years and a regular face behind the camera on the sidelines at high school sporting events. Spiegel provides an inside look at the Interscholastic League in the Kansas City, Mo., School District and follows four students through their senior year. It’s reality TV in its truest form, and it’s heartbreaking at times while surprisingly uplifting at others.

Part history lesson and part reality check, it’s a reminder of just how good many of us have it.

Most athletes I cover have strong parental support. I can see that much from looking in the stands.

A look at most weight rooms and practice facilities at high schools throughout the Sunflower League, Kaw Valley League, East Kansas League and other area schools reveals adequate, if not superior, facilities.

Plenty of the coaches have been around for a long time and don’t plan on going anywhere.

Life is different in the IL. Stands are mostly empty. Facilities are poor. There’s little support cushion and even less stability. In some instances, sports are being eliminated altogether.

“We try to make the suggestion that maybe if you invest, not just in sports, but in all these extra programs, that maybe that’s how you turn things around and get grades up test scores up, and maybe you turn a whole community around,” Spiegel told me.

At the same time, there’s a lot of good going on. Spiegel examines the “Southeast 17,” The Southeast (Mo.) High football team that has just 17 players — barely enough to play, let alone win — and discovers that some kids see playing sports as providing direction and discipline that ultimately lead to a diploma.

You see high school students that want a better life, are willing to work hard to overcome adversity, and even have two or three coaches who will fight for them.

“You’d be curious what would happen if you trade places, you take these kids from Southeast and put them on a team with eight or nine coaches, big-time pads and weight room and coaches making calls on your behalf to get you a scholarship and get you into training camps. It breaks your heart a little bit when you think of it like that,” Spiegel said.

Of the four students profiled, some have been abused, have had siblings murdered or have parents in jail. None win state championships, but all graduate. Three are in college, and the fourth may be headed that way soon thanks to a contact made through the documentary.

It’s a humbling look at life only about 20 minutes away, and it’s one that every high school athlete, parent and fan should watch. Maybe it will make you appreciate just a bit more what you have, or perhaps it will inspire you to get involved and help out.

Regardless, it’s worth your time to watch.

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