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Tulsa, Oklahoma 74105
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Cotton farmers spent all day picking cotton bolls by hand. It was grueling work. At the end of the row their sacks are weighed at the “hang-up”. It was the measure of how well you did that day. But there’s another “hang up” at the end of your life Ted Owens argues in his book by the same name that this film is based on. This “hang up” is a measure of what you did with the life God blessed you with. Under the pressures of life… who were you?
That question forms the heart of this true story, set in 1958 Oklahoma. A time of change.
The government’s termination policy withdrew support of reservations, forcing Native Americans into cities, challenging their sense of identity and heritage. Black townships, of which Oklahoma had more than all the rest of the country combined – were dying out and it’s people forced into cities where they couldn’t eat or watch movies with white people. And rural poverty was so intense that few young people of any race had a way out of farm life without help from college scholarships.
This is the world of our story, set around a little community college in rural Oklahoma, Cameron College. A young basketball coach, Ted Owens, comes up short with his #1 ranked team and loses the national championship. Downhearted after the loss, Ted and his players face an uncertain future.
The players include one of the first African American athletes ever to enter an Oklahoma college, Native Americans, desperately poor farm boys, a renegade kicked out of college for drinking, a bullrider, and a boxer on a scholarship who had the program and his scholarship canceled out from under him by Cameron officials.
Major contributors make clear to Ted that his first priority is recruiting another basketball team that can go all the way and seal the deal. But that throws Ted into conflict with his players, who want to start practicing baseball. There hasn’t been a baseball program at the college for 27 years. There’s no field, no league, no budget. But some of his players just need a chance to get good enough at baseball to get a scholarship. Other players want to help them.
Ted puts them off because the pressure is on him to recruit a winning team if he wants to remain the coach. But his players recruit other players and begin scrimmaging against Ft. Sill soldier teams. But the team struggles without Ted’s guidance, and conflicts erupt and the team continues to lose time after time.
Finally Ted’s forced to make a decision. Do what’s best for Ted, or do what’s right for these boys and their futures. Ted chooses his boys and even though that puts him into big time conflict with Cameron funders, once Ted is in he’s all in.
When the boxer hears about a World Championship Series, he quickly spreads the word and the team convinces Ted to try and get them in, even though Ted thinks it’s pointless. The entire regular season has gone by. It’s too late. But when challenged by an official in charge of the play-offs about his record, and how many college teams Ted has lost to – Ted comes up with an inspired response. “We haven’t lost to a college team all year”.
That’s because THEY NEVER PLAYED A COLLEGE TEAM ALL YEAR!
But that gets them into the play-offs for the World Championship Series. But they don’t have a field for the play-off games. They don’t have uniforms. And they’re playing against the #1 team in the nation with 60 wins.
This is the story of how Ted and his players overcome all their struggles to ultimately become a great team, where whether you were black, white, Native American -- everyone looked out for each other. If their black player, Homer, can’t eat with them at a restaurant they travel to for the play-offs, they’ll all go eat with Homer in the back of the restaurant.
And this is the spirit that propels this team into winning every play-off game -- and winning one game after another in the championship finals so that they become World Champions! But no one thought they could do it. So in the end there are no parades, no cheering crowds, just a celebration with the team they just beat. But the players had forever lifted the bar for themselves on what was possible in their lives. Half of them became coaches.
58 years later some of them still say this was the best 2 years of their lives.
Ted is now tied with current KU Head Basketball Coach, Bill Self as the two of them have won the most basketball games, (206) in Allen Fieldhouse at the University of Kansas than any of the other Jayhawk coaches in history.
The lessons from this miraculous season served him well.
ThTThe Hang Up
The Hang Up
Copyright © Scott Thomas. All rights reserved.