KAPALKO: Sports classics remain relevant as time goes on

Jamie Kapalko

“You’re killing me, Smalls.”

Name that movie. Easy one, right? “The Sandlot,” the best of the massive bunch of kids’ sports movies of the 1990s. Wait, maybe the best is “Mighty Ducks.” James Earl Jones or Emilio Estevez? Although, wait, I’m also partial to “Little Giants” and “Rookie of the Year,” too. But I can’t forget “Angels in the Outfield” …

Kids’ sports movies made in the 1990s is just one tiny subgenre of the huge collection of sports movies made over the years, and it’s full of classics. Want to watch a movie about underdogs? Off the top of my head, you have “Rocky,” “Rudy,” “Hoosiers,” “Bad News Bears” and even “Space Jam” (admit it – you loved it when you were 10). Looking for something that can double as a chick flick? Try “Love and Basketball,” “Bull Durham” or “Jerry Maguire” (two words: “Secret Garden”). Into bobsledding? “Cool Runnings.” Golf? “Caddyshack,” “Tin Cup” or “Happy Gilmore.” Are you a 12-year-old teenybopper drawing hearts in your notebooks with glitter pens (or a college student who used to be)? Rent “Bring It On,” “Blue Crush” or “Stick It.”

An endless number of sports movies have been made over the years. Why? Well, first and foremost, people love sports. They play sports, they watch sports – they can relate to these movies. Second, moviemakers can reach several audiences at once. Throw in a line like “You complete me,” some juvenile humor and an edge-of-your-seat comeback, and you’re almost guaranteed a hit. Finally, sports movies aren’t just about sports. They can be motivating, they can teach lessons and they can tell us about history. “Remember the Titans,” anyone?

If you can recite lines from all the above movies in your sleep – and tell me which classics I forgot – you may want to blow off studying for finals to check out the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival in New York City in a few weeks. The festival will host the premieres of 14 sports-related movies, as well as “Sports Saturday,” which includes an interactive football training camp with the Giants, a demonstration of street soccer stunts, a BMX show and a marathon of sports movies – including a screening of the movie that fans voted “The Greatest Baseball Movie of All Time.”

The films premiering at the festival range from “Doubletime,” a documentary about competitive jump roping, to a Woody Harrelson poker comedy called “The Grand.” There’s also “The Final Season,” a small town heartwarmer about a high school baseball team based on a true story. There are a few documentaries about popular sports: “The First Saturday” in May, about the Kentucky Derby; “Chavez,” which honors one of Mexico’s greatest boxers; and “The Power of the Game,” which interweaves six soccer stories from around the world.

The festival features many documentaries about some obscure sports or, in some cases, “sports.” There’s “Hellfighters,” which profiles Harlem’s sole high school football team. “Sons of Sakhnin United” addresses global politics by depicting a multi-ethnic soccer team in Israel. “Steep,” the jaw-dropping story of extreme skiing, shows skiers jumping out of helicopters onto mountains and attempting to outrace avalanches.

It gets weirder. “Planet B-Boy” features break-dancing, concluding with “The Battle of the Year,” the Super Bowl of break-dancing. Why isn’t that on ESPN? Last, but most definitely not least, “King of Kong” enters the dangerous world of competitive gaming, following the world record holder in the arcade game “Donkey Kong.”

This is the beauty of sports movies: there’s an infinite amount of material at filmmakers’ fingertips. The possibilities are truly endless because sports are everywhere, all the time. Walk outside. A couple kids toss around a Frisbee on Sheehan Beach. A girl runs up and down the bleachers at the football field. A husband and wife bike down Lancaster. Go a little further. Fifth-grade boys play pick-up basketball in the park, while high school girls finish field hockey practice at Agnes Irwin. Take a trip into Philadelphia. Pro sports are everywhere: the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers, of course, but don’t forget the Soul, KiXX, Force, Freedom and Whitemarsh RFC. And of course, in arcades all around Philadelphia, there are people playing “Donkey Kong,” dreaming of becoming the King of Kong.

The cynic in me says that so many sports movies are made because they’re safe and profitable. My inner optimist looks to the Tribeca/ESPN Sports Film Festival and believes that sports movies abound because there are simply so many stories to be told. The realist in me concludes that it’s probably some combination of the two.

And my inner critic would just like to remind everyone that just because a million sports movies can be made does not mean that all of them should be made. “The Replacements”? More specifically, Keanu Reeves as a football player? Or how about pretty much any sports movie involving animals, like “Air Bud” or “Ed”? And then there’s the sequels – lame attempts at capitalizing on the success of the original masterpieces: “Rocky V,” “Caddyshack II,” “Bad News Bears Go to Japan” and, “Sandlot II,” my personal least favorite, an attack on my sacred childhood favorite. Its plot is more about rockets than baseball, there’s a deaf character nicknamed “Fingers” and its central theme is “Girl Power!” Regardless, its insufferable awfulness is not enough to tarnish my love for the original. “The Sandlot” will always be one of my favorites.



Jamie Kapalko is a sophomore English major from Belmar, N.J. She can be reached at [email protected].