The film “Believe in Me” is an adaptation of the novel Brief Garland, by Oklahoma author Harold Keith, and tells a fictionalized version of the true-to-life story of Jim Keith (Harold’s nephew).
Jim Keith was a basketball coach who came to Sayre, Okla., intending to coach boys’ basketball, but was forced to head up the girls’ team instead. Eventually, Keith built a State Championship program, winning Class 2A State Championships in 1970 and ’71.
In the movie, Jeffrey Donovan plays fictional coach Clay Driscoll, based on Jim Keith. Driscoll comes to Middleton and takes over the girls’ team, despite his desire to coach boys. With a few adventures along the way, he eventually gets the parents, students, and town to rally around his girls’ team. In the movie, Middleton wins state in the 1965-66 season.
The film did a good job of portraying a small town in rural Oklahoma — the opening shots that revealed Middleton reminded me of a hundred small towns that I’ve driven through, and the scenery (though filmed in New Mexico) looked quite a bit like rural Oklahoma.
It also — I thought — captured the essence of high school girls’ sports in an age when they weren’t deemed that important. It was well-acted, well-directed, and decently written.
However, it was not well-researched, and that’s just one of the down-sides to this otherwise excellent low-budget movie.
Until the 1980s, girls in Oklahoma played half-court basketball, a fact that went unnoticed by this film’s makers. Even Jim Keith, who assisted in the making of the film, didn’t appear too disappointed by the oversight, which was glaringly obvious to any fan of the sport. When we were expecting them to stop at half court and pass the ball across, the girls just kept on running.
Another historical inaccuracy that any basketball fan would notice is the presence of three-point lines on the gym floors in the film (which supposedly took place in 1964 and 1965). In real life, the three-point line wasn’t used regularly until the 1960s, and that was in the American Basketball Association (pros). The NBA didn’t adopt the three-point shot until 1979. International basketball made the long shot official in 1984. NCAA basketball first saw three-pointers in 1980, but it wasn’t standardized until 1986. In high school, the new rule took effect at different times in different places, but was not used in Oklahoma in the 1960s.
It should have been a simple matter to repaint the gym floors for the movie, but the filmmakers decided not to. This grated on me every time the floors were in sight on screen.
There were a couple of other things that would only be bothersome to an Oklahoman… The Ford Center is visible in a skyline shot of Oklahoma City (wasn’t built until the 2000s). Weatherford (a town name) is misspelled on a marquee. A farmer uses a hay machine that wasn’t invented until the 1970s, and the scoreboard in the gym is made by a company that didn’t exist in the 1960s.
The film also looked cheaply done, as if it were made to be a TV movie. I understand it was a low-budget flick, but it didn’t have to look that way.
As a final conclusion, though, this movie is worth watching. Most of us can learn to set aside the few nit-picking complaints and enjoy a decent, wholesome sports movie. It wasn’t too clichéd, and most of the time, it felt like a real story.
(And when was the last time you saw a girls’ sports movie? A League of Their Own?)
Special Note: As a sports editor for a small-town Oklahoma newspaper, I’ve taken special care over the last few years to give girls’ sports the same level of coverage as boys’. In the past few years, our girls’ teams have actually done better than the boys, and it’s kind of exciting to see girls scrapping it out.
IMDb: Believe in Me
Wikipedia: Believe in Me
(mild thematic elements and language)
Length: 91 min (1:31)
Director: Robert Collector
Genre: Drama / Sports
My Rating: 7 of 10
Family Friendly: Yes.
Jeffrey Donovan, Samantha Mathis, Bruce Dern, Bob Gunton, Heather Matarazzo, Marta McGonagle, Alicia Lagano