Actor Jim Caviezel, a former high school and college basketball star who aspired to play in the NBA, takes the sports movie genre seriously. Especially because he plays legendary high school football coach Bob Ladouceur in the new sports-themed movie, When the Game Stands Tall.
Ladouceur is best known for coaching the De La Salle High School Spartans in Concord, Calif., to an extraordinary 151-game winning streak from 1992 through 2003. But Caviezel, in getting to know Ladouceur in person and through a documentary film, now respects the man he portrays for his inspirational teachings, not for the winning streak. That is the message Caviezel hopes gets through to audiences.
“It wasn’t hard to do when you listen to what he says to his team,” Caviezel says of respecting and then playing Ladouceur. Caviezel is on the phone from Los Angeles, eager to convey the serious nature of what some may mistake as just another sports movie. “He said to me once: ‘Jim, this may sound odd to you but the reason we win is that what beats at the heart of our neighbourhood at De La Salle is love. They love each other and they are not afraid to say it and embrace each other as a sign of that affection.’ ”
The movie showcases how Ladouceur teaches that to student athletes. “The players testify to one another at team meetings — then must put those words into action during a game,” Caviezel says.
Quoting Ladouceur again, Caviezel says he was impressed that his real-life character would explain how words are just a beginning. “To love someone, words are nice but actions speak volumes and that is not easy. Put simply, love means I can count on you and you can count on me. And this translates into being responsible and responsibility is learned and not inherited. That is eventually what they do. They come in as boys and they leave as men. What’s the difference? Personal responsibility. It is very lacking in this time (in most of society).”
Caviezel sees a parallel between sports and acting. Every film shoot works better if people learn to work as a team, to love each other and to do their best. Caviezel also credits three mentors he grew up with in high school and college sports in the state of Washington. One inspiration was Lenny Wilkens when he coached the Seattle Supersonics, Caviezel says. The second was the late John Wooden, another coaching legend who became a family friend when he coached Caviezel’s father in college.
The third mentor is former U.S. Olympian George Raveling, who coached Caviezel in college (and is now Nike’s director of international basketball). “He was an extraordinary speaker and I could feel go through my head and down into my heart,” Caviezel recalls, citing things Raveling said years ago that Caviezel still uses for motivation today. “I had to do things that were against my nature, which was being shy. And thank God I did, because it happened and then I had the courage to go out and become an actor.
“So I am the product of great role models. They were teaching something that was far greater than money and success and everything in the world — that sportsmanship had a great part in the game, along with class, integrity, your character.”
These are the same life lessons that Bob Ladouceur taught before he retired from coaching in 2013. This is the lesson embedded in When the Game Stands Tall, Caviezel says. “I think that is truly applicable in a universal way. That is a mentality that everyone can in some way relate to. That is why the film transcends sport!”