Two busloads of South Los Angeles high school rugby players, alums, parents and friends, over 100 in all, made the trek to Idyllwild for the premiere of their documentary film “Red, White, Black and Blue.” The extra bonus for the L.A. troupe was snow, something many of them had never seen.
“RWBB,” which won Best Full Length Documentary at ICF2013, is the story of two teams, one boys and one girls, that travelled to New Zealand to compete with high school teams there, primarily Maori in composition.
But the film goes beyond the playing fields and also chronicles the personal lives of the American students, many of who are challenged by their home environments, absentee parents who have made negative choices and loved ones killed for senseless reasons. The film is about how the teamship and camaraderie of their rugby family steer and steady them through often turbulent times, and the weights and issues that are always with them, even on the trip to New Zealand.
At the film’s center is the Inner City Education Foundation rugby program in South Los Angeles that for 10 years has provided emotional support and physical education and rugby programs to over 5,000 elementary, middle and high school students in class and after school. ICEF Rugby program founder and former professional rugby player Stuart Krohn said the program is about developing leaders and decision makers.
Krohn, who had never produced a film, raised funds for the film and employed a professional New Zealand editor and director, James Brown. The result was a beautifully shot and highly evocative documentary of triumph on the field and in the lives of these young people.
And the young stars of the film, many of which are now alumni of the program and currently enrolled in major universities Brown and the University of California, Riverside, proved while they were here that they are true leaders and young men and women of distinction.
But both students and parents and friends in the two busloads also showed that they were all children at heart as they hit a very slick sled track on Highway 243 just outside of Idyllwild prior to attending the festival.
The group then went to the Idyllwild Community Center site for some snow play, tossing of the rugby ball and rehearsal of the pre-game haka dance rituals they learned in New Zealand. Maori players prior to rugby matches perform the dances to bond together as a team and to raise energy levels. They later performed the rituals on stage at the Rustic prior to the film’s premiere.
But it was in the post-film question and answer session that the film’s key players and team leaders showed their poise, intelligence, and commitment to each other and the goals of the program. In the film, boys’ team leader Asa Garrett showed how to lead, with a firm yet affable approach to keeping his team focused and united. As part of ICEF, Garrett had travelled to London, South Africa and New Zealand. Krohn noted that part of the program’s goals, through the travel, is to better prepare students to succeed away from their home environments and to appreciate cultural differences that will help them be more adaptable in life.
Girls’ team leader Jennese Bacon, accompanied both in New Zealand and at the Idyllwild screening by her mother Monique Bacon, showed poise and heartfelt honesty. In the film she deals openly with conflicts within the team and how that affects her emotionally. Jennese’s struggles to remain a dedicated team leader in the face of challenges from within, are highlights of the film.
But it is in these young men and women’s belief in education and the pursuit of their dreams that shows how much the ICEF program has succeeded in its mission to build leaders. Some players are now in major universities where they are playing rugby. Some are still in high school and focused on competing in the Olympics, now that rugby will once again be an Olympic sport.
Said Krohn, the singular force that inspires and motivates players in the ICEF Rugby program, “We, these young people, have an opportunity to inspire the world. Some of these young men and women here are going to find their way onto Olympic fields. But they will all be Olympians in every field.”
Their ICF win capped an extraordinary journey.