Despite its uplifting, historically significant story, Something to Cheer About isn’t, unfortunately, what its title proclaims. Betsy Blankenbaker’s documentary about Indianapolis’s Crispus Attucks high school basketball team—which, in 1954, became the country’s first all-black squad to win a state championship—is a reverential yet frustratingly skimpy nonfiction record, its wealth of anecdotes and archival photos and film footage weakened by an unwillingness to delve deeply into its subject. Interviews with team members, including future NBA hall-of-famer Oscar Robertson (who also produces), convey the racial discrimination faced by African-Americans under Jim Crow, as well as celebrate coach Ray Crowe for his tireless efforts to mentor his student athletes on and off the court. Indiana basketball legend Isiah Thomas recounts Robertson’s quote “You play as you live,” a principle the film makes clear was passed down by Crowe, whose innovative coaching style (fast breaks, an early version of the triangle offense) was matched by a genuine, dedicated interest in his kids’ education and (often difficult) family circumstances. Something to Cheer About convincingly argues in favor of Crowe’s modest greatness, but comes up short in the context department, offering only cursory background on both Crispus Attucks—which was established, apparently with the help of the KKK, as a segregated school for blacks—and, aside from Robertson and his older brother, on the various players. As a result of this thin framework, a sense of the team’s impact on the urban community (and basketball at large) is somewhat diluted. And because the hoops program enjoyed almost immediate success once Crowe was hired as head coach, the film suffers from the lack of a clear and compelling narrative. Nonetheless, Blankenbaker’s film astutely identifies the paradoxical humor in white schools clamoring to compete against the very people they so vigorously sought to isolate, even if it fails to recognize the related, stinging irony of an African-American named Crowe thriving in the segregationist era.
- Truly Indie
- 64 min
- Betsy Blankenbaker
- Betsy Blankenbaker
- Oscar Robertson, Ray Crowe
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