‘McFarland USA’ sprints into an instant classic

'McFarland USA' sprints into an instant classic

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Mohamed Bafakih, Sports Editor

For many years, I would drive northbound on Highway 99, and 20 minutes in I’d see a “Welcome to McFarland: The Heartbeat of Agriculture” sign and only one thing stood out: the barbed wire fence that housed inmates just off the highway.

However, there is far more to McFarland and its history than just a correctional facility and it being another rural Central Valley town, and luckily there is a movie to prove it.

Based on a true story, “McFarland, USA” is a Disney-based sports documentary on how a declining high school football coach, Jim White (Kevin Costner), from Boise, Idaho, found a full-time teaching and coaching opportunity in McFarland but only to realize that football isn’t the forte for McFarland High School students – but rather cross country.

The biggest problem for White, his wife and two young girls, though, was the change of region and demographics. With McFarland being a predominately Hispanic town, the adjusting process for White and his family was unbearable as Anglo-Americans.

For instance, White took his family out for something to eat on their first night upon arrival, and the only thing they stumbled across was a hole in the wall restaurant named “Tacos El Cazador” (which exists in McFarland). With expectations of finding pizza, the limitations of any type of food outside Hispanic were scarce – and moving to more upscale Bakersfield was far within reach.

White, who was originally brought in to be a Life Science and P.E. instructor along with being the assistant football coach, experienced hardships such as: pronouncing the students’ names to getting them to listen to his instructions and not understanding the importance of picking crops.

Nevertheless, the picking is what led White and the McFarland High Cougars to win the first ever California Interscholastic Federation Cross Country State Championships in 1987.

The endurance and stamina to be able to begin your day at 4:30 a.m. and head straight to the fields in scorching hot temperatures then go to school afterward just shows the mental and physical capabilities which translated to cross country.

It made me proud of calling the Central Valley my home, and that it is possible to make something out of yourself despite your race or class.

Jim White was more than just a teacher or a coach to the seven student-athletes. He was a father figure to some, a mentor to most and a hero to the city of McFarland (and not to mention a nine-time state champion).

He was able to touch these students and embrace the culture around the town, which we need to do as well.

There is more to the Central Valley than just agriculture and that is what “McFarland, USA” does a great job of directing to.

It hits home and this is our home, as well – making us feel like we’re in this movie together.


5 stars