Go Tigers! (2001) / Documentary

MPAA Rated: Rated R for language and a scene of teen drinking      
Running Time: 103 min.

Cast: Danny Studer, Ellery Moore, Dave Irwin
Director:  Kenneth A. Carlson
Screenplay: Kenneth A. Carlson

Review published September 21, 2003

Sometimes it's more effective for documentaries not to tell you its point of view before, during, or after watching a film to gain the most resonance.  Sometimes it's best to just throw up the images, warts and all, and let us feel the impact without nudging our thoughts one way or another in a manipulative way.  Such is the case with Kenneth A. Carlson's Go Tigers!, which gives you the ups and downs of the high school football team called, of course, the Massillon Tigers, in the small town of Massillon, Ohio.  This is a town in which footballs are handed out to every newborn male baby, starting the recruitment early for future players for the town's biggest source of pride, its football team.

The town is nuts over the team, and in fact, one might call the fervor for which the town's citizens and officials support the team as rabid.  This documentary showcases the Massillon struggle to redeem itself in the 1999 season, coming off of a humiliating 4-6 record the year before.  The town is also on the verge of a major change, as a levy is being proposed and voted on by its citizens, and one in which would mean a major change to the educational system. 

Carlson employs an even-handed approach to his subject, giving you a glimpse into the personal lives of the players, and it is much to his credit that he befriended them sufficiently to showcase them at their highs and lows.  This isn't a showcase for Massillon pride, but also an in-depth commentary on what's wrong with the town's educational system, where students are habitually held back in 8th-grade in order to make them older, hence bigger and stronger, for their football team as seniors.  There is also a scandal involving the recruitment of students outside of the town, and indeed the state, to relocate to Massillon and play for the team. 

Go Tigers! surprised me with how much anger it was able to inspire in me, almost effortlessly, because it never panders its case, if in fact it has a case to make.  In so doing, it does raise my awareness of small-town sports, and how easily a cult can grow and flourish in a small town.  From the religious undertones, to the ostracizing of anyone who isn't with the program, one almost would think this was a documentary about religious zealotry, and not the quaint football flick as surmised by looking at the cover. 

By the end of the film, I found myself actually hoping the team would lose, as well as the levy.  I was disgusted at the lopsided interests of the school board, which threw dollars away on babying the football team and coaches, and concentrated very little investment in the education and well-being of the students at large.   A fancy scoreboard, lavish training facilities, and corrupt school policies which revolve around making their football team the best it can be, all served up for our perusal, and potential displeasure.  Go Tigers! may look like an unassuming film about a beloved high school team, but underneath it all, it speaks to what's wrong with the educational systems of many small communities all over this country. 

The irony is, those who perpetuate this sort of sports-first mentality, especially those in Massillon, probably view this film as another source of pride.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo