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Brandon wrestling documentary

ESPN JWH was here yesterday immortalizes Brandon wrestling streak

It looks like you were given access to every facet of the program, and then some.

That's the only way to do these projects right. You find a subject who is comfortable with you being there all the time and everywhere. If access becomes restricted for any reason, then you don't have the kind of truth that ends up coming across the screen after six months of shooting. I think when a subject like the Brandon High School wrestling team feels comfortably about the way they handle their business, they're very comfortable with the cameras being around. It was never an issue with Coach (Russ) Cozart or the school and administration.

What are your impressions

of Russ Cozart?

To me, Russ Cozart belongs in a category with John Wooden and a select few other coaches that I've encountered in my life. I did a short film about Coach Wooden about 20 years ago and took away a lot of the same things. It was a different time in (Wooden's) career obviously, and he was looking back, more philosopher than coach. But the idea that there's an essential truth to a sport and that by pushing the young men under your supervision — to use Coach Wooden's term for his players — toward that truth, toward that purest form of the sport in the pursuit of becoming the best competitor you can become as opposed to the pursuit of victory, that's all you can ask of yourself and of your players. The winning comes of that.

The fly in the ointment in the production was, Brandon lost a match. How did that affect it?

Once the streak ended and the burden was lifted, in a sense, from everybody, all the details fell away and the essence of the thing they were doing was left. And that, I think, enabled all these kids and I'm sure Coach Cozart himself, and also the parents who wanted their kids to keep the streak going so badly … to get to what's most important about what they were all doing together. When they rallied together after that, I imagine their connections to each other were stronger than they had been before.

Did you or (executive producers) Mark (Consuelos) or Jason (Sciavicco) have athletic backgrounds?

Mark (a Bloomingdale High graduate) was a soccer player, and he went to Brandon for a year. I remember Mark telling me that he was at soccer practice and saw these guys doing the fireman carry or buddy carry and going, "Who are those guys?" and someone telling him, "They're the wrestling team." … He was amazed by it and stayed in touch with the program all these years. The whole thing was Mark's idea.

One significant character we barely see in the film is Cozart's wife, Jenna. Why?

Jenna Cozart was totally cooperative. We did shoot some things in the home with them. She did a wonderful interview where she was very articulate, forthcoming and interesting. In an earlier cut she was in there, and when we had to get down to 92 minutes and 54 seconds, we felt that the farther we got from the team, the less we needed to hold onto it. To have removed things from the kids themselves to keep that in would have turned the film more into a Cozart film than a Brandon wrestling film.

Eagles junior Kevin Timothy (who ultimately won a state title) found himself in the unfortunate position of losing the match that sealed the team's historic defeat. Was there a concern about exploiting the kid or the moment?

What was in our mind was to be fair. To have made it seem like anything other than Kevin just happened to be on the mat when the numbers fell into place would've been false. But he was the guy on the mat when the numbers fell into place, and it was a very dramatic moment. And I felt he handled himself with tremendous dignity to suffer through that and refocus himself and achieve an individual state championship.

The year the Brandon High wrestling team's national-record win streak dies, the Eagles are immortalized by ESPN. Such irony, however, is trumped by poignant and personal redemption in the network's documentary about the team premiering tonight. The Streak, debuting at 9 p.m. on ESPN2, takes an in-depth look at the Eagles' 2007-08 season, which featured a loss to Homestead South Dade that snapped the Eagles' 34-year streak of 459 consecutive dual-match victories. ESPN's cameras received unabridged access to the program for the film and even were allowed into the homes of several wrestlers. As a result, mini-character sketches emerge of team members, some of whom are desperately trying to preserve the streak and live up to the legacies established by dads and older siblings. Although some details are disturbing (Why don't the wrestlers eat at lunchtime? What's with that chin-up bar in the bedroom doorway of the Cozart home?), the Eagles come off as characters worth cheering for. The Times recently spoke with Jonathan Hock, producer-writer-director of The Streak, who offered some insights into the making of the film.

ESPN JWH was here yesterday immortalizes Brandon wrestling streak 04/28/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 9, 2008 4:27pm]
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