Well Schooled

September 16, 2001

In the opening scene of Go Tigers!, Ken Carlson's fascinating
documentary about high school football in Massillon, Ohio, which
opens on Sept. 21, booster club president Todd Schumacher is
shown welcoming a newborn baby boy by placing a toy football in
the child's crib and saying that "he would make a good wide
receiver" someday. The plastic-pigskin ritual, carried out every
time a male is born at the city's hospitals, is creepy to watch,
like a Saturday Night Live skit about overzealous football
recruiters come to life. However, as the next hour and a half of
Go Tigers! proves, it's nothing out of the ordinary in Massillon
(pop. 31,007), a blue-collar town that draws its identity and
lifeblood from the mighty Massillon High Tigers, winners of 22
state titles in 106 years.

Presented in a linear, no-frills fashion, the film follows the
Tigers' 1999 season and focuses on their tri-captains,
quarterback Dave Irwin, defensive end Ellery Moore and
linebacker Danny Studer, as they try to lead Massillon back from
a disappointing 4-6 record in '98 and rally support for a tax
levy that would provide sorely needed school funding. (Above,
backup quarterback Brett Marshall leans out of the bus in a
scene from the movie.) Along the way Go Tigers! provides an
unblinking look at the power of sports and the priorities of a
town where players are routinely "redshirted" in their
eighth-grade year so they'll be stronger in high school, and
where students make do in overcrowded classrooms while the
football team plays in a college-quality stadium. "Some of it is
bizarre and some of it is obsessive behavior, but there's also a
sense of beauty and community," says Carlson, 37, who spent
three of his teenage years in Massillon (though he attended
suburban Jackson High) and went on to play linebacker at Brown.

To make Go Tigers! Carlson and his five-man crew shot 300 hours
of film in locker rooms, coaches' meetings, school hallways and
players' parties. The charismatic Moore becomes the central
character, not least because of his background: At age 13 he was
incarcerated for 15 months for rape, a crime he denies
committing. Moore, a freshman defensive lineman at Kentucky,
echoes the views of many in town when he says, "Ain't a day goes
by that I'm not grateful to God for putting Massillon football
in my life."

--C.B.

COLOR PHOTO: JOSEPH NAGY/IFC FILMS

Go Tigers! presents an unblinking look at the power of sports in
Massillon.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)