Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 12, 2022 8:37 am 
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Upbeat story of the little New England Catholic high school that could

The most upbeat documentary of the year can either be seen as a school's recruitment film or a study of school spirit and how it can thrive in adversity. It's about St. Bernard's Catholic high school in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, which in 2019 had to give their all, down to only 100 students, to go private when the diocese decided it had to close. The key: a dedicated enrollment and fundraising effort by staff and alumni and a little football team (half or one third the size of their competitors) that beat West Bridgewater to win Division 8 Super Bowl for the second year despite (or perhaps because of?) all the adversity of that year. They were the smallest school paying football in the State of Massachusetts. The doc nicely blends the school's fight to survive in a new form with the story of the team.

Big contributors: football team members Ben Goolsby, Jacob Banchs, Dom Cuevas, Nico Mancini, Jason Branch and Johnny Pinard; young principal Linda Anderson who just took office the year before; lumber company owner-coach Tom Bingham; sportswriter Sean Sweeney - and many others: like the story it tells, this film is a team effort.

They had to get at least 100 students enrolled again for the next year, and the team had to have another winning season because for the world, the football team, the Bernardians, was the school. The result is an American success story that's improbable. A 33-year-old female Latin teacher became the head of the school, a tiny football team wiped out their finals match opponents. After the team winners' hijinks on social media won a million hits and then a million more, and the championship was all over the front page of the Boston Herald, long-lost alumni started to take notice and come back and the $1 million endowment and more became solid and now is at $2.6 million with their "All In" campaign. and growing. Finally the diocese administrators granted the school's bid to privatize. Catholic high schools had been going under left and right in the state. St. Bernard's proved they were special. And through the pandemic they increased enrollment and continued strong. In 2021 they welcomed the largest freshman class in ten years. In spring 2021 the football roster grew to 42, and played a shortened season ending 6-0 undefeated with no playoffs against schools from higher divisions.

Would like to have heard from a few more students who're neither the son of the coach or a football team member, rank and file kids who we see grinning throughout in group shots, but rarely hear from. Another element not heard from: teachers other than those involved in the action. But basically this is a portrait, and an engaging one, of the coaches, the team and the young principal, with sidebars on others who worked to save the school. And this is an energetic, upbeat documentary about people pulling together to save an institution they love.

All In: St. Bernard's, 95 mins., releases from Gravitas Ventures on VOD Dec. 13, 2022. Available on Amazon Prime.

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