The Raw Emotion, and “Real” Season Behind “A Miracle Season”
I wasn’t going to see it. I didn’t want to watch it and have it suck. It was way too real, too emotional. I wasn’t going to see it.
I had a change of heart, and I flipped the switch to, “I have to see it”. The movie, “Miracle Season” of the 2011 Iowa City West Volleyball team and the story of the late Caroline Found was too important to the sport of volleyball and my home state. Also, it’s not just the sport of volleyball, but the story of perseverance, people being good people, the resilience of a team, and a community was something I just had to see.
As an Iowa native, and quite frankly a high school sports nerd ever since I was little (I collected state tournament programs as a kid…go figure), I knew the story. At the time of the real story of the “Miracle Season” had occurred I was teaching in Northwest Iowa and I remember reading about this story in papers across the state. The story of Iowa City West, The Women of Troy and their All-State setter, Caroline Found tragically being killed in a moped accident and their season dedicated to her which resulted in winning the state title for the second consecutive season against their crosstown rival, Iowa City “City High”.
I didn’t want to watch this movie and be sad. As a high school student, I had been there. In four years, I had three students at my school die tragically in car accident (two right before Christmas my Freshman year, and one I ran cross country with the week of homecoming my Senior year). I thought it would be painful to watch this movie and think back to those moments that no one wants to relive. However, the movie is so much more, much, much more.
This movie really captivates the resilience of a team coming together during a tragedy. A community coming together. A coach being strong for her team, to eventually show the emotion no matter how strong we try and be we’re all human at the end of the day. Putting the pieces back together after a tragedy, seeing that a journey isn’t always a straight line. Lastly, seeing how important it is to treat others, and as the famous quote from the movie says, how to “Live Like Line”.
The Raw Emotion
As someone with coaching experience in volleyball and baseball there were so many quotes in the movies I could relate to or have heard high school athletes actually say.
“This wasn’t the way my senior year was supposed to be.”
“Don’t set me. I don’t want to be the one to lose it for us.”
There is also a scene where Caroline’s father, Ernie Found played by William Hurt, says to Caroline’s friend Kelly, “It’s quiet here”. Two weeks after Caroline passed away her mother, Ellyn Found lost her battle with cancer. Ernie found lost his daughter and his wife in a matter or weeks. In this same meeting, they talk about the “What if…” scenarios pertaining to the night of the accident. I think it’s human to question the “What if’s” after a tragedy or loss of any sort. The start of that question is dangerous to spiral in to, but this again shows the raw emotion of the situation that you can’t help but feel when you watch.
What I appreciated about this movie was how it captured the doubt, insecurity, sadness, and uncertainty of what would happen after the accident. There is no certain solution as to how to rebuild from losing a teammate. A team is a family. A team eats, sleeps, breathes, laughs, and cries together. Through the tears you see in the movie (and as a side note, just know its ok to shed a few tears yourself while you see this movie), you also see the genuine excitement, doubt turn into confidence, and resilience that I am always amazed at how high school students are able to respond with when faced with adversity.
If you watch the, “Live Like Line: The Story of Caroline Found” on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel HBO special, you can see the student section filled with tears as they sing “Sweet Caroline” which became an anthem for the West High Community that fall heard at athletic events.
As far as the emotion, I was afraid to feel sad, but in watching the movie I was feeling inspired. Inspired in the way I can positively affect other people, how I can make a positive impact as a teacher, a coach, as a writer, and what I can do for others.
I am a 6th grade teacher, spending my day with 11 and 12 year olds, and one of my students saw a Thursday night screening of the movie and she said, “I just cried. I cried because it was sad, I cried because it was happy. I want to see it again.” Even if you’re not a volleyball person, you will leave the theatre with a feeling knowing you can make a difference and a positive impact on others.
The Real Season Behind “The Miracle Season”
Growing up a small town Iowa kid, I knew of Iowa City West. “West High”, everyone knew West High. This high school was loaded with talent. Their track and cross country teams were always winning state championships. The Trojans, or for girls sports “Women of Troy”, were solid at everything. In the 2011-2012 school year not only did Iowa City West win state volleyball, they also won a state title in basketball and finished fourth at state softball. For boys sports, their football team is competing for state titles year in and year out and their wrestling program is one of the tops in the nation. Being in the backyard of the University of Iowa definitely has its perks. West High is a destination school in Eastern Iowa and the school on the other side of town, City High, is very much a rivalry that is tops in the state. No matter what state you live in there is always “that school” that is strong in everything, you see their name at all the state tournaments, and it seems like there is no weakness. Iowa City West is one of them in the state of Iowa.
However there are a few things I’d like to point out that might give you a false impression from the movie. Here are some of the “real” volleyball and sports information behind West Volleyball and the season they had for the record books.
In the movie, there is the impression that the volleyball team was just awful at the beginning of the season losing to Iowa City High, then to Montgomery (not a real school, along with a few other fake school names not in Iowa) and piling loss after loss.
In reality, Iowa City West did lose two of their first three matches, but after that went on an absolute tear. West competes in the Mississippi Valley Conference, a Class 5A (Iowa’s large school class) conference which is one of the top conferences in the state for any sport with schools from Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Waterloo, and Dubuque. They finished the season with a 39-6 record, winning the MVC regular season and conference tournament, and defeating City High twice in the regular season. One of the team’s top players, outside hitter Shelly Stumpff, was named captain of the All Tournament Team and was also on the state championship basketball team, and state softball team. She was named “The Gazette’s” (Iowa City/Cedar Rapids Area) 2012 Female Athlete of the Year and is currently an Assistant Volleyball Coach at the University of South Dakota.
In the movie, the volleyball isn’t too bad. For someone who writes about prep prospects and teams across Wisconsin, I was preparing myself to cringe. There were some plays that were impressive. The right side in the movie for City High, I would rank as a Division 2, low Division 1 prospect and was legitimately tough to stop, especially running a back quick in the championship match. The outside for West in the movie did have a solid top spin jump serve. The plays they were calling and what they were saying between points and in timeouts was fairly accurate. The setting in the movie is a little shaky, I did have a few moments where I had to not think that was a double contact, but I’ll let that pass. I know Kevin Bacon didn’t have the best basketball skills in “The Air Up There” (am I dating myself?), Adam Banks had weakness in The Mighty Ducks, and I know if there was a skating expert watching “I, Tonya” they would have critiques as well.
In reality, the setter who had to replace Caroline Found was Kelley Fliehler and she was more than just average, she was great. How do I know? YouTube has everything, including the state championship game from 2010 and 2011. Fliehler definitely could have been setter in college and if you are setting and winning a championship for a Class 5A school it is no fluke. I’m sure there were struggles along the way, but for those watching the movie please understand Fliehler was an outstanding volleyball player as was the rest of the players on the team. Today, the West High volleyball team probably plays their club volleyball for Iowa Rockets, Six Pack (out of Cedar Falls), Adrenaline (out of Cedar Rapids), or CIA (out of Waterloo). The program is deep and talented that is consistently producing college level athletes.
Oh, and Kelley didn’t actually have a boyfriend during the season. As most high school athletes playing elite volleyball can relate, there isn’t a whole lot of time between being the best athlete you can be and school on top of that. I’m also willing to bet that Coach Brez had better practice attire than the baggy khakis shorts worn by Helen Hunt 🙂
But how could two schools from the same town, the same school district both end up in the championship game, isn’t that impossible? No, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) does it right.
The IGHSAU will not draw up brackets until just over halfway through a season. Each year they will vary depending on certain talent in different regions. To have two teams from the same city making the state tournament or even the state championship isn’t uncommon. They will do the best they can to get the best teams to the state tournament. High Schools that are miles apart will be sent in different directions for their regional and they end up at the state tournament together. Isn’t that how a state tournament should be? The best teams playing at the state tournament. The state tournaments are seeded and all the championships are in one day. Pay ten dollars, watch a lot of great volleyball all day long. A great fan and student athlete experience.
So What Now?
In Iowa there are two degrees of separation between everyone. I have a college friend who is a West High grad and a high school friend who is employed at West High, in Iowa there is always a friend who is willing to help you out (much like Caroline Found). They were great in giving me a little bit of background behind the West community.
Coach Brez (Kathy Bresnahan, a UW Platteville alum and played by Helen Hunt in the movie) still teaches at West High. Her classroom was and I’m sure still is considered a safe haven for the students at West.
Ally Disterhoft, a 2012 West grad, 2012 Miss Iowa Basketball, and former All Big Ten Basketball player at the University of Iowa was one of Caroline’s best friends. Disterhoft and the Iowa Women’s basketball team was extremely active in the Brain Injury Alliance of Iowa in working with legislation to require all minors to be wearing a helmet when operating a moped or motorized bike.
Ernie Found is still an active member in the West Community which has started the Live Like Line Foundation which helps athletes in need of financial assistance. They award one athlete from each team with an LLL certificate. Coach Brez is one of the Board of Directors on this foundation.
I know when I take my bike through Iowa City this year during RAGBRAI (Registers Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) I will be finding that bright, blue bench in Iowa City that says, “LIVE LIKE LINE”.
Take your team to this movie. Take your family to this movie. This is more than volleyball. You will be inspired. You will leave the movie wanting to “Live Like Line”.