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    SUBJECTS — Sports/Basketball; U.S./1945-1991; Diversity/
             Native American & African-American; New Mexico;
    SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Leadership; Teamwork;
    MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility; Respect; Caring.

    Age: 12+; No MPAA Rating -- PG; Drama; 2003; 135 minutes; Color; Available from Amazon.com.

    Description:     Loosely based on actual events, "Edge of America" presents the classic Cinderella sports team story with a unique racial twist. The basketball team is from a Native American high school on a reservation in the Southwest. It has a new coach. He's young, he's a hard taskmaster, and he's black.

    Benefits of the Movie: Like many other sports team stories, this movie allows children to vicariously experience and work through the issues of trying hard against intimidating odds, the need for self-discipline, the need to work together as a team, the exhilaration of victory, and the despair of defeat. It shows Native Americans as three dimensional characters with hopes, strengths, weaknesses, talent, and a culture of their own. It describes the difficulties that a basketball coach from the dominant culture experienced in learning to work with Native American girls. The movie is a story, ultimately, of racial harmony. It also shows men who don't like each other resolving their differences peacefully. Finally, "Edge of America" presents a girls' sports story.

    Possible Problems:     MINIMAL. This movie contains several words of profanity.

    Parenting Points:     This film is entertaining for all ages. Parents will serve their children well by watching the film with them, taking its lessons seriously, and telling them the story of the Lady Chieftains. See the Helpful Background section. Immediately after the movie, or at odd times over the next week (for example at the dinner table or in the car on the way to school) bring up one of the Discussion Questions, starting with the Quick Discussion Question in the sidebar. Don't worry if you can only get through a few questions. Just taking the film seriously and discussing it is the key. Allow your children to watch the movie several times on their own.


Benefits of the Movie
Possible Problems
Parenting Points
Selected Awards & Cast
Helpful Background
Discussion Questions
--- Social-Emotional Learning
--- Moral-Ethical Emphasis
      (Character Counts)
Bridges to Reading
Links to the Internet
Assignments, Projects & Activities

WORKSHEETS: TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students' minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film. Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM's Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

      Helpful Background: Shiprock High School is located on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. Before 1980, its girls' basketball team, the Lady Chieftains, had a lackluster record. That year the school hired Jerry Richardson, a young black man from Texas, to coach the team. Mr. Richardson was a hard taskmaster and brought with him a drive to succeed.

      In 1980, Shiprock, New Mexico was economically depressed. Unemployment was 50% and half the families lived below the poverty level. Almost half the homes had no telephones or running water. Girls' basketball had been something to pass the time. The Lady Chieftains were infected with the spirit of their location. About half the girls dropped out each year.

      Coach Richardson was an outsider on the Navajo reservation. It took four years to get the girls to trust him. "He was never satisfied, as if we were never good enough," one player recalled. Another added that "We are Navajos. Our feelings can be hurt very easily." Ford Foundation Report - Winter 2003 from the documentary "Rocks with Wings".

      Over time, the team improved until it made the state championships in 1987. On the night before their championship game, the girls confronted Richardson about how he had been treating them. In a late night team meeting they came to an understanding. The next morning, the team played with a new spirit and team effort. They lost, but by only one point. Coach Richardson came back the next year with a better understanding of how to relate to the team and the Lady Chieftains won the next three state championships.

      Cheryl Lee, a player on the 1987 team, recalled that "The girls didn't know how to react to someone who required so much of them." Referring to the confrontation the night before the last game in the 1987 state championships she said, "It all boiled over and fizzled like a shaken bottle of Coke, and the pressure got released, and the next year we were able to play more as a team than we ever did." "Glory Days of Navajo Team Relived" by Janie Magruder, Arizona Republic, April 25, 2006.

      After a few years Richardson moved on to coach college basketball. He was killed in a car accident in Florida in 1996.

      The first movie about the Lady Chieftains was a documentary called "Rocks with Wings" directed by Rick Derby. It is not easily available but it won a few awards and hopefully it will come out on DVD. Mr. Derby described his reasons for making the film: "When Jerry arrived in Shiprock he was a young fella - you don't just walk into a Native American community and completely resurrect the place . . . . I knew they'd have to go through some sort of process to thrust off this cloak of victimization or defeat or fatalism and Jerry was the person who helped them do that." Mr. Derby described his film as a "story about transformation - people living in one set of circumstances and desiring another but not quite knowing the path to that." BBC 4 Storyville, Interview date: August 12, 2003.

      Shiprock Peak in New Mexico is the remains of a solidified lava core of a volcano that has been dormant for 40 million years.
      Many cultures recognize the Earth Goddess or Mother Earth. She is the bountiful embodiment of the Earth. This is what a Navajo website has to say about Mother Earth:
      Mother Earth nurtures us and gives us all things including the mountains, trees, our animals, grass, food, and the herbs to heal us of our infirmities. We are the children. All things are alive to us. The Holy Ones taught us how to take care of Mother Earth. We honor them in our delight to take care of her. Many peoples of Mother Earth are now hurting her. A future day will come when the peoples of the Earth will come to us, the Navajo, to teach them how to care for Mother Earth. When that day comes, we will be ready. An Introduction to the Navajo Culture.
      The divine feminine is minimized in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

    QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:   Why does Mother Tsosie call Mr. Williams a "white man"?

    Suggested Response: Because he is acting like the whites act toward the Native Americans. He was dismissive of Native American traditions. He was competitive and had a drive to win. He was rude and insulting.

    For English Language Arts classes, distribute TWM's Film Study Worksheet. Teachers can modify the worksheet to fit the needs of each class. Ask students to fill out the worksheet as they watch the film or at the film's end.

    Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more  .  .  .   Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.


    "drive a hard bargain", "the res", philosophy, Indian grapevine; legible, heading, salutation, dry as in "We don't have any beer. Our res is dry"; dribble-shoot; press; pick and roll; concussion; "fend for your self", nausea, power forward, "play tight man to man", pathetic, unforced turnovers, dead air, bring it in, huddle up, convince, harmony, pawnshop, "like a deer caught in the headlights", tournament, relentless, seed (as in a tournament), curfew,

    The important aspects the story told by the movie are similar to what really happened.

    Did the automobile accident startle you? Well, that's the way accidents happen. You're going along; you fail to pay attention, or you make a mistake, or something suddenly happens; and then bang you're in big trouble.

    Speaking of the documentary, a member of the 1987 Lady Chieftains team, Cheryl Lee, said, "What I would like people to get from it is that nothing's impossible with enough hard work and discipline. ... You can do anything you set your mind to do." "Glory Days of Navajo Team Relived" by Janie Magruder, Arizona Republic, April 25, 2006.


      Discussion Questions:

      1.  Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film

      2.  What do you think of the character of Mother Tsosie? Have you ever known anyone like her?

      3.  Mother Tsosie refers to "Mother Earth" -- What is "Mother Earth"?

      4.  What do you think about the following dialog? Is Annie Shorty right to reprimand Mr. Williams?

      Kenny Williams: Then you tell me why I'm pissed off.

      Annie Shorty: Because you're a black man in America.

      Kenny Williams: That's right, I'm good and pissed off.

      Annie Shorty: Well then get over it! You're talking to Indian people here! Get over it, get on with it, or get the hell out!

      5.  Mr. Williams says: "Basketball never did a ... thing for me that a book didn't do better." What did he mean by this and what is the significance of this comment for most people?

      6.  Mr. Williams told Mother Tsosie that every time Baby set foot on a basketball court she had perfection within reach. Mother Tsosie replied that: "I weave my whole life and soon I make mistake but I make it on purpose. My spirit would be trapped in a perfect design. A flaw lets it out. Flaws keep our feet on Mother Earth." What are the advantages of the drive for perfection? What is mother Tsosie talking about?

      7.  What's going on with Franklin?

      8.  Mr. Williams was rough with the girls and demanded that they meet high standards. Why did he do this? There are at least two reasons.

      9.  What was the importance of what happened to Mr. Williams in Texas when his car broke down and a man pulled over to give him a hand? He said, "I had the whole world worked out black and white. I knew exactly who my enemy was."

      10.  The movie shows how much Mr. Williams was a product of the mainstream culture in the U.S. Give some examples.

      11.  What did you think of the character of Carla's father?

      12.  Why did Mr. Williams help Carla's boyfriend get out of the jail?

      13.  Was the loss really the coach's fault for telling the girls to slow the game down and play for one shot? Does it matter?

      14.  Close to the end of the championship game, Annie Shorty said that she really wanted to beat the other team's coach. Then she said, "God help me, I want to beat that ... Tell me this is still about education." What did she mean by that?

      15.  In a basketball game decided by one point, is one team really better than the other, or is it just the luck of timing that makes the winner?

      16.  Were the people on the reservation right to treat the girls as winners?

      17.  Cuch, the wise man/auto mechanic/bus driver, was forced to go to a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school. The first thing they did was to cut his hair. For a Native American, this robs him of his individuality and humanity. But in the movie, Cuch is much older and on his own. He has had plenty of time for his hair to grow back. But he keeps it cut relatively short. In addition, Cuch makes his living working on cars, the quintessential symbol of the mainstream culture. These two elements of the story are symbols. But of what? Here's a hint: they relate to the decision of Mother Tsosie to allow Baby to go back to school and to play basketball despite the fact that Mother Tsosie knows that playing on the team and going to school will dilute Baby's Native American traditions. What theme of the movie does this relate to? What does Cuch's short hair symbolize?


    Select questions that are appropriate for your students.

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    Selected Awards, Cast and Director:

    Selected Awards: 2003 Daytime Emmy Awards: Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special -- (James McDaniel); 2006 Directors Guild of America: DGA Award: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Children's Programs (Eyre); 2006 Writers Guild of America Award: WGA Award (TV) Children's Script - Long Form; 2003 Daytime Emmy Awards Nominations: Outstanding Performer in a Children/Youth/Family Special (Timothy Daly).

    Featured Actors: James McDaniel as Kenny Williams, Irene Bedard as Annie Shorty, Delanna Studi as Carla McKinney, Misty Upham as Shirleen, Eddie Spears as Franklin, Cody Lightning as Dwayne, Geraldine Keams as Mother Tsosie, Michael Flynn as Homer Horton, Fraya Aspaas-Montoya as Francie, and Trini King as Alvina 'Baby' Tsosie.

    Director: Chris Eyre.
      Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


      The next two questions are based on the following dialog:

      Mother Tsosie: You like having things your way.

      Mr. Williams: Sorry if I insulted you in the locker room. I'm not against you Mother Tsosie. I'm just for your daughter finishing school.

      Mother Tsosie: Baby missed five days last December to go to my sister's sing. They threatened to suspend her. Then she gets two weeks for Christmas. We don't celebrate Christmas. Baby reads and writes ... works numbers. What does she need with school?

      Mr. Williams: They can take her to college.

      Mother Tsosie: More school. Then what?

      1.  Was the school right to threaten to suspend Baby for attending her Aunt's sing and then keep her out of classes for two weeks on the Christmas break?

      2.  Do you agree with Mother Tsosie that Native American girls don't need to go to college? Or do you agree with Mr. Williams that going to college would be good for Baby?

      3.  Mother Tsosie said "Basketball takes her away from our traditions. It's the women keep the old ways alive. The women keep the history." Mr. Williams responded that: "Sometimes you gotta make history." Who was right?


      4.  Why did Mr. Williams make the team stay after one of the games, making Carla shoot the ball and then making everyone run the court?

      5.  Could the Lady Chieftains have won without teamwork?

      6.  Did Shirleen, the girl who got pregnant, let her team down? How should the team have treated her after she got pregnant?


      7.  How does the coach make a connection with the girls and get them to join the team?

      8.  What did you think of the terms of the contract that Mr. Williams had the girls sign?

      9.  Give three good examples of leadership exhibited by Mr. Williams in the movie.

    FOR SUGGESTED ANSWERS:   click here.

    Click here for TWM's lesson plans to introduce cinematic and theatrical technique.

    Reminder to Teachers: Obtain all required permissions from your school administration before showing any film.

    Teachers who want parental permission to show this movie can use TWM's Movie Permission Slip.

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      Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

      Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


      (Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)

      1.  Cuch, the man who fixed Mr. Williams' car, said that when he was sent to boarding school run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) they cut his hair. What is the significance of this?

      2.  What was the importance of the scene in which Mother Tsosie called Williams a "white man"?


      (Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act -- consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

      3.  Have you ever tried to do something that most people thought was impossible? Have you ever seen anyone else do something like that? Describe what happened.


      (Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

      4.  When Mr. Williams berated Shirleen, the pregnant girl, and kicked her off the team, did he do the right thing? Remember, the assistant coach objected, saying "She is not an example! She's a 17-year-old girl!"


    Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.

    Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.

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      Bridges to Reading:

      • Red Hot Hightops by Matt Christopher, Little, Brown, 1987, (Normally fearful of playing basketball in front of a crowd, Kelly becomes a confident and aggressive player when she dons a mysterious pair of red sneakers that she finds.) [grades 4 - 7]
      • Sue Bird: Be Yourself by Sue Bird with Greg Brown, Positively for Kids, 2004 (Positively for Kids creates consistently readable and engaging sports biographies, choosing to focus on articulate and personable stars like Sue Bird.) [grades 4 - 7]
      • Basketball (Or Something Like It) by Nora Raleigh Baskin, HarperCollins, c2005 (Three boys and one girl form a friendship while playing on a middle school basketball team, and write of their pressures both on and off the court.) [grades 5 -8]
      • Hoop Girlz by Lucy Jane Bledsoe, Holiday House, 2002 (When River is not chosen to play on the A Team for the local basketball tournament; she organizes her own team, the "Hoop Girlz", and with her brother's help, enters the tournament.) [grades 5 - 8]
      • Life, Love, and the Pursuit of Free Throws by Janette Rallison, Walker, 2004 (High school freshmen Josie and Cami try to remain best friends as they compete for basketball awards and boys.) [grades 6 - 10]
      • The Rhyming Season by Edward Averett, Clarion Books, 2005 (A high school senior and an eccentric English teacher team up to try to lead their small town basketball team to the state championship.) [grades 9 - 12]
      • Girls Got Game: Sports Stories and Poems, Sue Macy ed., Henry Holt & Co., c2001 (Sue Macy, a noted sportswriter, has compiled a fascinating collection of stories and poems focusing on women and sports.) [grades 5 - 8]
      • Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn by Larry Colton, Warner Books, c2000 (A journalist charts a girls' basketball team which carries the hopes and dreams of their small town on the Crow Indian reservation during the course of their winning season.) [grades 9 +]

      • This listing compiled by Marilyn Taniguchi, Collection Services Manager, Beverly Hills Public Library
      MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: See Smoke Signals and We Shall Remain. See also the movies listed in the Sports Section of the Subject Matter Index.

      Bibliography: The websites cited in the Learning Guide.

      Last updated December 9, 2009.

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