1. Movies

Helen Hunt plays my high school gym teacher in 'The Miracle Season'

Helen Hunt, left, Ernie Found and Kathy Bresnahan attend the Premiere of "The Miracle Season" in  Hollywood, Calif. Hunt plays Bresnahan in the movie about the Iowa City girls volleyball team. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Helen Hunt, left, Ernie Found and Kathy Bresnahan attend the Premiere of "The Miracle Season" in Hollywood, Calif. Hunt plays Bresnahan in the movie about the Iowa City girls volleyball team. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Published Apr. 6, 2018

I never had school spirit. I didn't go to many football games, and I never owned a West High shirt. (Green doesn't look good on me.) Then I moved away, and tragedy struck my high school.

The Miracle Season, now in theaters, is the tear-jerking true story about the 2011 Iowa City West High girls volleyball team rallying after the loss of their star player.

And I sobbed my way through all 99 minutes of it.

Seven years ago, Caroline "Line" Found died suddenly after a moped accident a week before her senior year. She was the team captain, the school goofball, the caring friend of, well, everyone. Her team, the previous year's state champs, had to find strength within grief and do what Line would do: Play hard. Stay positive. Laugh often.

From afar, my heart swelled for my hometown. My younger sister graduated a year before Line would have. They played softball together. I knew Line's older brother from the high school newspaper. I attended a few Women of Troy volleyball games when my best friend played on the team, who placed third in the state championship in 2004.

Seeing my hometown on the big screen, or rather, Hollywood's adorable idea of Iowa — Barn parties! Snow angels! Neighborhood cafes with pie! — made the cheese-tastic movie much more delightful. The Miracle Season was filmed in Vancouver, and the town looked nothing like Iowa City. However, it was still wonderful to see the real Trojan logo and the school's tagline, Where Excellence Is Tradition; the green and gold stripes of the gym; the University of Iowa Hospital where I was born; and big screen versions of all the people I knew back when.

Danika Yarosh plays Line like the fun kid she was. As her mother was dying of pancreatic cancer — she would pass away a week after Line did — Line was determined to win another state championship for her. Yarosh is a tornado throughout the first part of the movie, making sure Line's strong spirit remains. Kelly (Erin Moriarty), Line's lifelong bestie, with pressure from the coach, becomes the team leader to help them push through their pain and overcome a terrible start to the season.

The Miracle Season is based off coach Kathy Bresnahan's book of the same name. Helen Hunt plays Coach Brez as a tough-love coach and a woman who knows how to keep her emotions in check. While that's who she was on the court, especially that year, the Brez I knew in high school was fun-loving and hilarious. She was my gym teacher who one week made us work out to Richard Simmons aerobics tapes. As my health and sexual education teacher, she convinced the class that the plural of penis is penii.

Brez, who retired from coaching in 2014 but still teaches health at West, could be your friend while also making sure you knew your place. You feared and loved her. And I squealed at her quick cameo in the movie during the final match.

Even if you're unfamiliar with volleyball, the movie will have you mesmerized by the rhythm of the sport. Bump. Set. Spike. It's a swift game, and the girls are good. I mean, really good.

Both in real life and on screen, the girls show real commitment to their friend and teammate. Line loved and lived fully. Line's dad, Ernie, played compassionately by William Hurt, uses her undoubting momentum to spread that message; and the words "Live Like Line" appeared everywhere in town: on posters, shirts and buildings.

Iowa City is not as small as you'd think for a town in the heartland, but there are only two public high schools. And you won't find villains in this melodrama. But City High really is the enemy of the Trojans. (You know the saying: I'd rather be a condom than a d--- from City High.) So when the girls had to play their rivals for the state title, the movie turns into every classic sports drama. Stakes are high. Hearts are racing. Ponytails are jostled. Can they do it? Well, you know how it ends.

Finally, there's a movie about a high school girls team. I wasn't only crying at the team's triumph, I was tearful at how empowering it was to watch a team of girls band together to honor a sport, and their friend.

They loved like Line. Played like Line. And are living like Line. Caroline really was the embodiment of all the cliches.

The Miracle Season is sensationally corny. It's like one of those earnest Disney Channel movies we routinely watched in the early 2000s. It will manipulate your tear ducts and tug at your heart.

As the real-life pictures popped up throughout the credits (Hey Gregg!), I got nostalgic. Later, I flipped through my yearbooks. It seems like a lifetime ago, but my hometown will always be my home. And right now, I needed to remember that.

By the way, I purchased my first West High shirt the year Line left us. I finally found that Trojan pride.

Contact Brittany Volk at Follow @bevolk.