Synopsis by Josh Ralske
Texas native and talented high school athlete Jerry Richardson's basketball playing career was untracked when his high school's coach and athletic director blackballed him, badmouthing his attitude to college scouts. Undaunted, Richardson attended Northwestern on a track scholarship, and went on to get his Masters at Louisiana Tech. Fresh out of school, Richardson needed a job, so when he got an offer to teach in the Navajo community of Shiprock, NM, he took it. The documentary Rocks With Wings tells the story of how Richardson took charge of the losing girls' basketball team at Shiprock High School, and, within a few years, turned them into state champions. The basketball team became a source of inspiration for the impoverished town. The film details, through interviews and old footage, the struggles Richardson went through with his young players. He came in with a hardnosed attitude and instilled discipline, and, while the players excelled on the court, they were personally hurt by his constant criticism. An older white assistant coach, Bill Dowty, treated the girls more kindly, but Richardson felt that Dowty was undermining his authority. The night before the state championship game in 1987, the situation came to a head. A team meeting was held, and, led by star player Cheryl Lee, some of the players finally let Richardson know how much pain his style of coaching was causing them. Richardson didn't respond well, at first, and the next day, the team lost a fierce battle against their powerhouse cross-town rivals, Kirtland Central. The following year, Richardson took a more sensitive approach, and the team began to reach its potential. Filmmaker Rick Derby struggled through years of financial and legal difficulties to complete Rocks With Wings. The film won the documentary Feature Prize at the 2002 Urbanworld Film Festival.
basketball, coach, Navajo, African-American, community, culture-clash, inspiration, poverty, team, bonding [relationship], champion, cultural-identity, high-school, self-doubt, trust, compromise, determination, teacher