Kids are back to school. Cravings for homemade chili and freshly picked apples kick in. And across the country, football season officially begins. (If you haven't seen high school and college players, strengthened by arduous two-a-days, suiting up for their season openers, you've surely witnessed office mates tinkering with their fantasy football teams, right?)
In due tribute to the excitement of another season of pep rallies and Friday night games under the lights, the Smithsonian Channel premieres "The Rivals" this Saturday, September 11, at 9 p.m. The documentary, directed by Kirk Wolfinger, follows two high school football teams from Western Maine, both hell-bent on winning the state championship, through their 2007 season.
The football field is just about the only place where the Falcons of Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, Maine, and the Capers of Cape Elizabeth High School in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, are evenly matched. Rumford is a blue-collar town struggling to be supported by a paper mill in town, while Cape Elizabeth is a white-collar town teeming with successful doctors and lawyers. The Mountain Valley Falcons play on a worn field in the shadow of the mill's smokestacks, and the Capers have a new turf field funded by their Booster Club. Plain and simple, it is the "haves" versus the "have nots." And, as the narrator of the film points out, football, in this case, is more than just a game. It is a clash of cultures.
But the Mountain Valley Falcons do have experience on their side. Coach Jim Aylward has led them to six conference titles and two state championships during his long tenure. Ninety miles south of Rumford, Coach Aaron Filieo, three years into establishing a football program at Cape Elizabeth High School, is just trying to make a name for his Capers.
The film transported my husband and I back to our high school sports days, reminding us of rivalries, coaching styles, spaghetti dinners and, most of all, the sense of community that sports create. "When you're carrying the ball," Coach Aylward tells his players, "you're carrying it for the whole town."
Though particularly poignant to former athletes, the story, with its life lessons of respect, pride and perseverance, has been enjoyed by a wide audience. On the independent film festival circuit, "The Rivals" has won the Audience Choice Award at the 2010 Woods Hole Festival, Best Picture at the 2010 Phoenix Film Festival and Best Documentary at the 2009 Los Angeles Reel Film Festival.