SUBJECTS — Sports/Basketball; U.S. 1946 – 1991 & Indiana;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Teamwork; Alcohol& Drug Abuse; Male Role Model; Father/Son;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Responsibility; Caring.
AGE: 11+; 1986, Rated PG;
Drama; 114 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.
In the 1950s, high school basketball was something special in rural Indiana. Whole towns rallied around their team. What boys did or didn’t do as 17-year-olds on the basketball court were important events throughout their lives. Norman Dale had been a successful college basketball coach, but for the last 12 years he has worked as a non-commissioned officer in the Navy. He is hoping for a comeback and has found a job coaching a small high school in Hickory, Indiana. The total enrollment is 161 students. Why did he suddenly stop coaching? Can he keep his job and make this small town team good enough to compete in the state championships?
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
1987 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Supporting Actor (Hopper); Best Music; 1987 Golden Globe Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Hopper). “Hoosiers” is listed in the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress as a “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” film.
Gene Hackman, Barbara Hershey, Dennis Hopper, Sheb Wooley.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
This film is a study in the growth of character and many elements of sportsmanship. Coach Dale once believed that winning was everything. Through the movie he comes to understand that there are things more important than winning. The film, inspired by the events of the 1954 Indiana State basketball championship series also tells a great David and Goliath story.
MINOR. There is a fight on the basketball court and a few mild profanities.
Ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question. If your child is very interested in the film, go through some of the other discussion questions.
TeachWithMovies.org recommends that every child in any family in which there is any history of heavy drinking or alcohol abuse be taken to an open AA meeting beginning at the age of 12 or 13. This should be repeated every year or so. Some meetings are divided into two parts. Try to stay for the second part. That’s when specially selected speakers talk about the difficulties they encountered while intoxicated and their new lives in sobriety. Tell the kids that if they ever have trouble with alcohol, the twelve steps of AA are a way that they can avoid the destructive effects of alcoholism. For more information, see Handout on Alcohol and How it Affects Us.
In 1954 the basketball team from tiny Milan High School in rural Indiana beat out all the larger teams for the Indiana state basketball championship. The rest of “Hoosiers” is fiction, but full of that often elusive other kind of truth which excellent writing and superb acting can bring to a film. The characters of Coach Dale, Shooter and Myra Fleener have much to say to us. The ambiance of small-town life and small-town high school politics are well drawn and ring true.
No suggested Answers.
2. Was the town’s relationship with basketball healthy?
No. When a 17 year old can determine the fate of an adult coach; when a daughter feels that basketball is more important than anything she could ever accomplish; when what a man did (or failed to do) in high school basketball is the high (or low) point of his life; when the most important emotion that townspeople feel when their team does poorly is embarrassment (rather than compassion for the players), there are strong indications that something is amiss. The purpose of high school sports is to teach players about ethics and life and to give them an opportunity to mature without risking the destruction of their psyche. That is difficult in such a supercharged environment.
3. Why did Myra Fleener warn Coach Dale to keep away from Jimmy Chitwood?
She tells us. She didn’t want Jimmy’s life to be limited to his achievements in basketball; she didn’t want his grieving process to be interrupted by a coach putting dreams of glory in his head. A follow-up question is why she felt so strongly about this and why she was initially so hostile to Coach Dale. The answer is that she resented basketball because her family loved basketball excessively and didn’t appreciate a girl who couldn’t participate (in the 1950s there were no girl’s basketball teams); she resented being kept in that small town by her obligations to her mother (who was ill and alone).
4. Why did Myra Fleener’s mother invite Coach Dale to come to dinner?
To get Coach Dale and her daughter talking and perhaps to begin to have a romantic relationship. This is shown by the fact that the mother insisted on looking for the firewood, leaving them together.
5. What did Coach Dale do (or not do) to win the trust of Myra Fleener?
He didn’t pester Jimmy and he acted as a teacher to his players, rather than as a coach whose only interest was in winning. Examples: teaching the boys teamwork at the expense of winning (at least initially); taking Shooter’s son out of the game when he injured himself and keeping him out even when he was needed on the floor; trying to help Shooter.
6. What is the message of this film about winning in high school sports and what is the serious structural flaw in the film?
The basic message is that winning isn’t everything and that there are many things more important than winning. The structural flaw in the film is that the team wins in the end. Coach Dale’s courageous actions in putting Shooter’s son on the bench and keeping him there even when one of the other starters fouls out; in risking a game to allow Shooter to coach the end of the game; and in not pressuring Jimmy to play, are, in the end, not painful. Ethics is being willing to do something that hurts for a principle. To really make the point that winning isn’t everything, the team would have to lose, but then the box office for the film would have been tiny.
7. What is the proper role of the desire to win in high school and college sports?
The desire to win sets a context in which the true beneficial lessons of sports can be taught. They are described in the ethical principals of Trustworthiness, Responsibility, Respect and Fairness; in helping the students mature; in allowing adolescents an area in which they can achieve something; and, for some, in providing rites of passage from adolescence to maturity (see Rites of Passages Questions in the Learning Guide to Remember the Titans) These are all undercut by an excessive interest in winning.
8. What is the importance of “impulse control” and how did a lack of impulse control affect one of the characters in this film?
The lack of impulse control can lead to tragedy, disgrace, prison, and many other very unpleasant results. Coach Dale lost his career by losing control for a few seconds and hitting one of his players. Another example of lack of impulse control occurs when Shooter’s son starts a fight on the court.
9. The real-life situation which inspired this film involved a state championship match-up between an all-white team from a very small rural high school (the Milan Indians, the student body of 161) and an all-black team from a large inner-city high school (more than 2000 students). The filmmakers chose to ignore this fact and make the opposing team integrated in order to avoid setting the conflict up as white vs. black. The racial make-up of the opposing teams was also changed in the film Remember the Titans. According to the film, each of the teams faced by the 1971 Titans was all white and didn’t have to deal with race. In reality, many were integrated. Do you think that making these changes detracted from the truthfulness of either film?
There is no one right or wrong answer to the question. The following points could be made in discussions seeking an answer. In “Hoosiers”, the inaccuracy as to the race of the opponents was to prevent a side issue from distracting the audience from all of the interesting and important issues presented in the film. It is neither important nor interesting that on this one occasion a team of relatively small white guys from the sticks beat a team of relatively large black guys from the city. Then again, the film could have mentioned this fact and the characters could have dismissed it as unimportant. After all, no one remembers the 1951 championship of the Milan Indians because they were white and the other team was black. This championship is remembered as showing that a small team can win. In “Remember the Titans”, the purpose of the change was to highlight the story of the successful integration of the team as something unique. A strong argument could be made that the movie makers did not have to rewrite history in this way. The fact that other teams were going through the same process, but without a black head coach, perhaps without approximately equal representation of whites and blacks on the team, and perhaps without equal success, tends to show that the Titans had unique challenges without altering the historical fact. In addition, the fact that other teams were struggling with integration as well shows that the Titans’ story and their success at integration was all the more important. The counterargument is that acknowledging integration of the other teams would have presented a fact pattern that was too complicated to present in the film and that it did not really bear upon the more important and interesting characterizations of the film, i.e., the interaction of the two coaches and the two players, both of which were strikingly accurate. These are not the only considerations and a stimulating discussion could be developed on this issue.
10. Myra Fleener said, “Gods come pretty cheap these days.” What did she mean? Do you agree or disagree?
She thought that being good at a sport was not a sufficient reason to be treated as a hero. A follow-up question would be, “What would you consider to be a good reason to treat someone like a hero?”
11. Why did Coach Dale give Shooter a chance to be an assistant coach? Did he really need him?
Coach Dale recruited Shooter to give Shooter another chance. Coach Dale knew from personal experience that people sometimes need a second chance. Coach Dale did not need Shooter’s expertise.
1. Why, at the beginning of the season, does Coach Dale require the team to pass four times before shooting? Why was this only necessary at the beginning of the season?
The four passing rule was to build teamwork. By the end of the season, when teamwork was strongly in place, the rule was not required.
2. Why does Coach Dale insist that the players obey him without question in matters relating to basketball?
Actually, he doesn’t. At the end, after they have learned to obey him, in the last play of the championship game, they ask him to allow Jimmy to take the shot and he agrees. A good leader will take suggestions from those that he leads. However, before Coach Dale could allow this to occur he had to establish his authority as unquestioned.
ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE
3. When Shooter asked for handouts, were his friends doing him any favors by giving him the small change that he sought?
No. They were facilitating his alcohol addiction.
4. Given that Shooter was an alcoholic, would the second chance that Coach Dale had given him be the push he needed to stop drinking?
Probably not. As shown in the film, it usually takes more than another chance for almost all alcoholics to overcome their disease, no matter how good that chance is. For example, Shooter’s love for his son couldn’t keep him off alcohol. Was an opportunity to be an assistant coach more important than his son’s love? Most alcoholics require a twelve-step program such as Alcoholic Anonymous, treatment in a residential facility, or something similar. It appears from the film that Coach Dale’s action helped Shooter decide to try in-patient rehabilitation.
5. Shooter appeared to blame his failures in life on the fact that in the key game of his high school basketball career, he had what would have been the winning shot, but it went in and out. Is there any basis for this?
No, it was just another excuse by a drug dependent person.
6. Shooter appears to blame his lack of self-respect on the fact that he missed a crucial basket at the end of his high school basketball career. As he explains, the shot went “in and out.” Is this reasonable? What is the real reason for Shooter’s lack of self-respect?
One can’t reasonably blame a player for a shot that goes in and out of the basket. That can happen to anyone. There are other, deeper reasons for Shooter’s lack of self-respect.
MALE ROLE MODEL
7. Think about the characters in this film. One of them could be classified as a male role model. It’s not the coach, although he is a man who has learned lessons from life and has become a nurturing, caring individual. Who was it?
It’s Shooter’s son. Growing up with a father who is the town drunk, always asking people for two bits for another drink, is very difficult. Maintaining a loving and caring attitude toward such a father, trying to help him, giving him not a second, but probably a thousandth and ten thousandth chance, takes a maturity beyond most 17 year olds and a capacity for forgiveness that eludes many adults. After all, for a child, an important message of a parent’s alcoholism or drug addition is rejection, i.e., the drug is more important to the parent than love for the child. At the beginning, the son “didn’t see” what the coach was doing for his father, didn’t think it would work. But he always acted toward his father in a gentle, nurturing way. The only thing that the son did in the film that was wrong was to start the fight in the game in which his father had just appeared drunk, but that is understandable. Note that the film doesn’t deal with the issue of codependence and it does not appear that the son was facilitating his father’s alcohol use in any way.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends and country)
(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
BRIDGES TO READING
- Basketball Hall of Fame by Terry Dunnahoo — Nonfiction — Grades 4 – 6;
- The Story of Basketball by Dave Anderson — Nonfiction — Grades 4 – 8;
- Black Hoops by F. MsKissack — Non-fiction — Grades 5 and up;
- Taking Sides by G. Soto — Fiction — Grades 5 and up;
- Hoops by Walter Dean Myers — Fiction — Grades 7 – 9;
- In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais — Fiction — Young Adult;
- On the Devil’s Court by Carl Deuker — Fiction — Young Adult;
- The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams by Darcy Frey — Non-fiction — Young Adult;
- Young Adult: American Sports Poems, R.R. Knudson and May Swenson eds.,
- Grades 4 and up: Rimshots: Basketball Pix, Rolls and Rhythm by Charles R. Smith and The Basket Counts by A. Adoff.
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- ‘Hoosiers’ in reel life an ESPN Page 2 Column by Bill Simmonds.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted to find books to recommend as Bridges to Reading:
- Best Books for Young Adults by Betty Carter, Second Edition, Young Adult Library Services Association; 2000;
- Our Family, Our Friends, Our World by Lyn Miller-Lachman, R.R. Bowker, Providence, New Jersey, 1992;
- Children’s Catalogue, Eighteenth Edition, edited by Anne Price and Juliette Yaakov, the H.W. Wilson Company, New York and Dublin, 2001;
- Best Books for Children — Preschool through Grade 6, Sixth Edition, edited by John T. Gillespie, R.R. Bowker, New Providence N.J., 1998.
This Learning Guide was last updated on December 10, 2009.