“Go Tigers” isn’t about million dollar commercials. It’s not about Nike shoes, or free agents or super bowls. It’s about football, and how the sport defines America as a country.
The film centers on Massillon, Ohio — a small steel mill town not unlike dozens of other anonymous midwestern towns except for one thing. Football. The town is centered around the high school team, the Massilion Tigers, known as the greatest high school football team in the country. The team is focused on with fanatical pride by the township, from the mayor on down. “Go Tigers!” chronicles the latest season, with a tax levy threatening to take away jobs from the school and cut financing, which adds even more pressure to the players to win and make sure the town’s pride isn’t shattered.
From a sports fan’s perspective, “Go Tigers!” is fantastic — a riveting, eloquent look at the sport of high school football before the corruption of money and professionalism. The pride of the town is infectious from the players to the fans, the games themselves filmed with an intense energy. Some documentaries display their subject as a form of mockery for laughs, yet “Go Tigers!” never panders or insults the players and fans. There are plenty of hilarious moments (the humping mascots, the military-like band director, and bar-none the best projectile vomiting I’ve ever seen portrayed on film) yet never at the expense of the people of Massillon.
Yet what really sets “Go Tigers!” apart is its ability to look at both sides of high school football. It’s not all “rah-rah” when you find out that players were held back a grade just so they could get ready for next season, or the transfer of a player from a rival school with the stigma of possible recruitment. The film maintains a level of objectivity amongst its enthusiasm, which adds an honesty to the film, but it never detracts from the driving force of the team support.
The film was directed by Kenneth A. Carlson, himself a native of Massillon who was waiting to find the right story to hinge the town’s tale. He tows the most delicate line, creating a loving memento to high school football while highlighting the faults.
Truly great sports films, in the end, are about more than just sports. They comment on the society around the game. “Go Tigers!” is about more than a football season — it’s a study of an Americana where pride still matters. Massillon seems almost magical upon watching the film, the community overcoming its troubles through the unity of football. Sports fans will go nuts over it, as will anyone who appreciates the fine cinematic storytelling on display in the film.
Like the films “Hoosiers” and “Hoop Dreams,” “Go Tigers!” shows how a sport is more than just a game, but a part of American life. It stands among those films as a powerful, heartfelt chronicle of outstanding filmmaking. Better than watching this year’s “defene-defense” Bowl game, pray that “Go Tigers!” can be seen near you soon, as it has ten times more heart and entertainment than any ball game I’ve seen this year.