Monday, April 28, 2008
Updated: April 29, 11:22 AM ET
'The Streak' chronicles ordinary athletes pursuing the extraordinary
By Joe Tessitore
It's every bit as improbable as the Miracle on Ice, without the dramatic play-by-play call. It exudes greatness along the lines of Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, but there's no oversized commemorative coffee table book. It's numbers-driven like Joe DiMaggio's 56 straight games with a hit, but this streak always has been about the process, not the result.
"It is an achievement as extraordinary as anything ever seen in American sports," filmmaker Jon Hock says.
Hyperbole, you say? As extraordinary as anything ever seen in American sports?
Well, you can dismiss this as just another sports story drowning in predictable exaggeration. I almost did. But then you open your eyes, look past the tall talk, and find what first connected you to sports long ago.
Hock opened his eyes, and his cameras, on Brandon High School's wrestling team and The Streak -- a national-record 459 consecutive victories, the most ever by any high school sports team in the country.
Long before Hock spent half a year with sweaty teenagers in singlets, he spent a decade at NFL Films. He wrote and edited the "Michael Jordan to the Max" IMAX movie, and both produced and directed "Through the Fire," detailing Sebastian Telfair's hoop dreams. His latest effort, focusing on Brandon's wrestlers, is "The Streak" (ESPN2, Tuesday 9 p.m. ET).
Brandon High is in the suburbs of Tampa, Fla. These are normal kids from normal families. The picture painted isn't sugar-coated. The group is flawed, and that's what helps make them perfect -- perfect enough to go unbeaten for 34 years.
In the film, we meet the typical coach's son who was born to be a star. We laugh at the vocal leader drenched in hubris. We relate to the silent hero who feels the pressure, the late bloomer who finds himself, and the gentle giant who learns to roar. Yet none of them would mean anything to us without the streak itself.
And the streak wouldn't exist without one man who is far from the norm.
"He is John Wooden in the body of a high school wrestling coach," Hock says of Brandon wrestling coach Russ Cozart. "We discovered an extraordinary man who lives and teaches and experiences a depth of strength and power in such a nondescript context."
Since 1980, Cozart has been the caretaker of a program that entered the season having won 451 straight matches dating to 1974. You give him your boy and he'll give you back a man. He isn't a drill sergeant or tyrant. He doesn't sit on those false thrones high school dynasties can build.
|Kevin Timothy and the Brandon High School wrestling team are featured in "The Streak."|
The production company that backed "The Streak" is owned by Mark Consuelos and his wife Kelly Ripa. They pushed hard to tell this story with a vision fueled by Consuelos' own high school memories of Cozart's ways.
"I was on the soccer team at Brandon," Consuelos said. "One day, I saw from afar these giant guys doing road work. As they got closer I realized they looked so huge because they were each carrying a teammate -- that's insane."
In fact, the film shows this modest local legend collecting the dirty towels and doing the team laundry. Cozart chips in on the daily chores, included among them touching the spirit of his athletes. His job description apparently includes washing away young men's inner fears and their athletic gear.
The pressure of keeping the streak alive is the center story line -- "I would dig a hole and jump in," says one athlete of the possibility of losing, a prospect that becomes more real, when, after 459 dual-match victories, that hole becomes real. For the wrestlers, the thought of being on the team that ends 34 years of perfection is unimaginable.
And while that tension is at the center of the film, it's also a human story that chronicles three decades of ordinary high school athletes pursuing extraordinary accomplishments.
Joe Tessitore is an anchor and play-by-play announcer for numerous sports for ESPN and ABC
The longest winning streak in the history of American high school sports is the focus of the new ESPN Films documentary "The Streak" (Tuesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2). Produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos in association with Jon Hock and Hock Films, the two-hour film chronicles the 2007-08 season of the Brandon High School (just outside Tampa, Fla.) wrestling program.