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In a beautiful written piece for the New York Times, Trevor Noah paints a picture of his childhood with his mother

Gridiron Gang

2008-11-30 14:47

Most have been convicted of crimes within their communities in and around Los Angeles, and are now forced to live together in an atmosphere of mutual distrust and outright hatred. The multi-racial group's forced truce often explodes into violence. Camp Kilpatrick is seen by the judicial system as a last chance for these youths before incarceration in California Youth Authority, where they will experience the horrors of adult life in lockup. Getting these wards of the county to care about themselves and their lives has been a thankless task for even the most dedicated counselors like Porter and Moore. Too many of the young men in their care have gone back out into the world only to end up in prison or, far too often, meet a violent end before they can reach adulthood.

As a teenager, Porter overcame his own personal problems to become a first-rate high-school football player. He wonders if the lessons he learned through discipline and team spirit could be applied to these young men and help them overcome the hopelessness they feel. He and Moore cobble together a team, the Camp Kilpatrick Mustangs, from among the residents of the facility, some of whom are eager to play, and others who are resistant.

Porter's plan is met with immediate skepticism from camp director Paul Higa (Leon Rippy) and his assistant, Dexter (Kevin Dunn), as well as from football coaches at the surrounding high schools who are opposed to hosting convicted felons on their playing fields.

The prospective team members share a distressingly similar upbringing, marked by abuse, chronic poverty and gang warfare. Willie (Jade Yorker), an African-American, recently lost a family member to gang violence. Kenny (Trever O'Brien), a Caucasian, came from a broken home. And 17-year-old Junior (Setu Taase), a young man from Samoa, has already fathered a two-year-old boy.

Porter and Moore strive diligently to gain the trust of the team members. Slowly, through their unstinting dedication, the young men start to overcome their petty differences and commit to regular football practice, despite a myriad of factors, including the fact that the camp field is little more than a rock-strewn pasture, that there is no money for equipment, that practice often conflicts with their school classes and brings down the enmity of the other inmates who are not part of the team, which ignites violent outbursts landing key players in solitary confinement for days at a time.

Nonetheless, some of the team members begin to demonstrate special abilities. Willie has a gift for running the football. Calvin (David Thomas) has the ability to tackle any runner - especially Willie, since they come from warring gangs in South Central L.A. Madlock (James Earl III) is a natural lineman, while Kenny has the good hands of a receiver. Others like Bug (Brandon Mychal Smith) and Evans (Jamal Mixon) are to lend their support as team managers.

As the team progresses through drills on the hot and dusty makeshift gridiron, there are setbacks to be sure. Junior is seriously injured and the loss of his leadership is deeply felt. Willie and Calvin continue to scrap and wind up in solitary confinement. Even Coach Porter suffers a serious loss after his mother's health spirals irreversibly downward.

Porter and Moore finally break through, however, and manage to convince one high school coach after another to play them. When the Camp Kilpatrick Mustangs prove themselves to be worthy adversaries, they earn enough trust to be allowed to travel beyond the locked gates of their Santa Monica Mountains prison. Through a season that tests their minds and bodies, the players learn self-respect and respect for each other. With that comes the realization that their lives are not hopeless and desperate, that if they can reach the regional championship game, it may only be the first of many accomplishments about which they can dare to dream.
It begins as an idea born out of frustration. Perplexed and appalled by the alarmingly rate of recidivism (as high as 75 percent) among his troubled young charges at Camp Kilpatrick, probation officer Sean Porter (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and his colleague Malcolm Moore (Xzibit) are desperately looking for a way to lift these young men out of the desperate circumstances that landed them at the maximum security juvenile compound.

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