Go Tigers!

In Massillon, Ohio, there is nothing more important than football. People live, eat, and breathe the Massillon Tigers, the local high school football team. Newborn baby boys receive little footballs from the high school athletic booster club. People can choose Massillon Tiger caskets when they die. Generations of families will play for the team. The love of the Tigers treads the thin line between fandom and obsession in Go Tigers!, the absorbing new documentary from Kenneth A. Carlson (Special Delivery). Carlson uses football as a means to glimpse into the lives of the citizens of Massillon, and ably explores how the Tigers touch other aspects of everybody's lives.

Go Tigers! focuses on the 106th (1999-2000) season of the Massillon Tigers. They are coming off a 4 - 6 season last year and expectations are high. The focus is primarily on the three co-captains, defensive end Ellery Moore, linebacker Danny Studer, and quarterback Dave Irwin, who all want to turn things around. Football is the primary concern for nearly everybody in town. Carlson does briefly explore some of the Tigers' detractors, who most people ostracize. The basic idea is that if somebody does not like football, they do not belong. One booster even has the nerve to say that football has done more than books for Massillon.

Like most fictional sports movies, Go Tigers! has its points of high drama centering around the 'big game.' In this case, there are two of them. One with Perry High School, which centers around a lawsuit about a transferred player, and one with Canton McKinley, Massillon's traditional rival (and winner of their previous four encounters). Unlike fictional sports movies, Carlson is able to elevate the drama to an incredible level. This is much more than winning the championship (although that is important) or the heart of the girl. For some of these students, football is their means of attaining a higher education. A loss of a game could mean a loss of their future. Every local and personal problem seems to somehow resolve itself on the field.

Carlson also looks at the town's unconditional love of football and their indifference at academics. The high school is facing bankruptcy. If this happens, the state will take over and force the school to undergo heavy cutbacks, which means many teachers will lose their jobs. An education levy is on the ballot again, in three previous tries the citizens voted against it. Education suffers while the football team has nice uniforms, lots of support, and a magnificent stadium. Parents hold their sons back a year in middle school so that as high school football players, they will be a year older. Massillon does not seem to care at all until the football players rally around the issue, saying that football will suffer if the levy fails. Go Tigers! works because Carlson is able to inject so much more than football into the movie. The ups and downs of the Massillon Tigers are a metaphor for the lives of the players and their families.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 43 minutes, Rated R for language and a scene of teen drinking.

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