When filmgoers line up at Harkins Flagstaff 11 Theatres this weekend, they’ll see on the lineup of films a new sports drama called “When the Game Stands Tall.” Starring Jim Caviezel and Michael Chiklis, the film is opening in wide release at the start of prep sports season.
What people might not know about this new movie is that it is based on the book by the same name, and that book was written by a former Northern Arizona University student who became a five-year resident and local sports reporter.
“I launched my first years as a sportswriter with the Arizona Daily Sun,” said Neil Hayes in a recent phone interview. He wrote “When the Game Stands Tall” about the 151-game winning streak of the De La Salle High School Spartans in California. “Flagstaff was a great place for me to cut my teeth.”
Hayes explained that he started at NAU as a student, but his program was cut after a year. He took a chance on being a sportswriter for the Daily Sun and it lasted for four years, with his time in Flagstaff falling betwen 1986 and 1991. He was originally from Illinois.
His larger breakthroughs into sportswriting on a larger scale happened from here, as he used his creditentals to cover the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Cardinals down in Phoenix, as well as major sports events such as the Fiesta Bowl.
“I was driving down there and back on my own dime, basically,” he said. “But it was worth it and a lot of fun.”
While covering the Cardinals, Hayes said he struck up friendships with coaches such as Andy Reid, who currently is the head coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, and Bill Callahan, the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, among others.
He eventually left the Daily Sun to work for the Contra Costa Times in the Bay Area of California — the state where he’d come to learn of the legacy of the Spartans.
The head coach for that team, Bob “Lad” Ladouceur (played by Caviezel), started coaching them at the age of 25. During that time, he coached around a dozen players who went on to NFL careers.
According to a synopsis of the film, “When the streak is broken, and tragedy strikes the team, Coach Lad must teach his players — and the entire town — that it’s not about how you fall, but how you get back up.”
It’s an inspiring book and has all the makings of an aspiring movie. The film is rated PG and is 115 minutes. It’s directed by Thomas Carter. Learn more at www.whenthegamestandstall-movie.tumblr.com.