This is the week, McFARLAND USA the Movie will hit the theaters in your town. If you're a cross country runner don't miss it. This is the story of XC Coach Jim White and the team he put together from nothing that went on to win the CIF state championship nine times. Besides being an inspirational running movie and a true story... it's a tear jerker. When you're at the popcorn counter make sure you grab an extra napkin or tissue because you're going to need it. For the dudes who don't want anyone seeing a tear rolling down your face .....suggest to wear a shirt with a collar or a hoodie so you can just turn your head to one side and wipe the tear off without anyone noticing.
Jim White moved to McFarland for a teaching job and an assistant football coaching position. As you'll find out when you see the movie McFarland's football team wasn't so great and the coaching gig didn't work out so well for Coach White. He did however notice some fast kids around town and went to the school principal with the idea of a cross country team. White read a flyer about the first ever CIF State XC Meet coming up that season. McFarland had never had a team because it was perceived to be a private school sport in their eyes. The principal asked Jim White if he had any experience coaching xc or if he was a runner himself but he had no experience period. The spunky principal sarcastically called him the "perfect choice" for the job.
Next Coach White had to find seven runners to make up the team, which was a task in itself. He convinced one of the kids to help him recruit six more. One of those was Danny Diaz who did not fit the profile of a skinny runner kid. As Kevin Costner who played Coach White in the movie said, "Danny you're a little fat, you've got to lose some weight, but you're my anchor." Danny took that to heart and not only kept the team together through some difficult times but was also the runner that made the difference later on at the state meet.
The first meet was against Palo Alto and they didn't look too bad until they hit the big hill at the end. That's where they all dropped off. On the bus ride home Coach White took the blame saying it was his fault for not knowing the course and getting them prepared.
After that wake up call they hit the hills, worked harder than the other teams and started to win. McFarland is a town mostly of migrant workers and kids start working in the fields around 10-12 years old. Families need everyone to pitch in and work. The team would get up at 5:00am to work for a couple of hours, then go to school, then work again, then.........at the end of the day Coach White would get them for an 8 mile workout.
At the qualifier for the CIF State Meet McFarland was prepared physically and mentally. They came in fourth and made it to state. On the way home Coach White took a turn to the west and ended up in a park next to the beach. This would be the first time the McFarland runners ever saw the ocean. That was awesome in itself and a kleenex moment!
The team not only had a great send off from the town as they boarded the bus for state but the store closed down and supporters followed them all the way. This was one of he best things that had happened for the McFarland and everyone was behind them.
As the start got closer we did notice some breakfast being left on the side and you could tell nerves were on alert. When the gun went off one of the McFarland runners forgot about pacing and ran out of gas and dropped to the back. The first four runners through the finish looked great but they needed one more. Danny Diaz, the not so skinny kid, came up from the back passing runners with an incredible finish. On this day he was the 5th man.
It took awhile to tally up the scores but McFarland wins the first CIF State XC Championships. They went on to win it nine times.
McFarland USA is an inspirational movie that you've got to see. It shows how a coach, a team, individual runners, and families pushed through emotions and adversity for success. You'll be inspired but you may also find something you can take back to your own team.
For me the movie connected the dots and helped to understand where the heart came from that the McFarland kids still have today. When you're at the finish line and the first few runners come across totally spent, you expect that. When every runner on a given team comes through with nothing left it's exceptional. That's what I saw in the McFarland kids last fall.
The original team members still run with the kids today and support them. What Coach White started is still gaining momentum.
WAY TO GO MCFARLAND!
From the 17th
If you're anywhere near the Portland, Oregon area there still may be a seat or two at the Tigard Regal Cinema early screening this Wednesday. RSVP the email below. We'll update you when we know for certain it's sold out.
These are real McFarland Cross Country kids that we met at the Nike Pre Nationals last fall.
These girls are the real life inspiration of McFarland.
This is Dede Salcedo 8th Grader from McFarland and on the Cover of Youth Runner Magazine Nov-Dec.