As the final semester of the 1990 school year is about to begin at Iowa's Belle Plaine High School, teacher and girl's volleyball coach Kent Stock (Sean Astin) is preparing to close one chapter of his life and begin another: Come June, he'll be moving to St. Louis where he'll begin a new career working in a bank. But before he does, Kent will get a shot a long-standing dream: To serve as assistant coach to Norway High's Jim Van Scoyoc (Powers Boothe), the legendary coach who led the Norway Tigers to an astonishing 19 State Championship victories in 22 years and helped make high-school baseball the biggest thing in little Norway, pop. 586. When the Tigers take to the field for a home game, business in Norway comes to a screeching halt, stores close for the afternoon and everyone in town heads over the high-school to watch local history be made. But Coach Van Scoyoc is also about to enter a new phase of his life, one that sadly doesn't include high-school ball. The regional school board, headed by the Harvey Makepeace (Marshall Bell) and advised by hot-shot Des Moines lawyer Polly Hudson (Rachael Leigh Cook), plans on closing Norway High and transferring its 101 students a much larger school in nearby Madison. Once the school closes, the Norway Tigers will be no longer, and their formidable legacy will become history. Even more importantly, Kent knows that once the baseball is gone, the local business that depend on out-of-town fans for their livelihoods will suffer, and possibly result in a dead main street and economic disaster. To make the medicine go down more easily, sneaky Harvey comes up with a scheme: He'll offer Coach Van Scoyoc a plum industrial arts position at the new school if he'll retire from coaching quietly. Then, to make sure the team goes out with a whimper and not the kind of bang that might make townsfolk nostalgic, he'll hire Kent Stock to coach the Tigers to what will undoubtedly be a losing final season. Kent, however, isn't about to let the Tigers go out without a fight, and he's got a new secret weapon to help ensure the Tigers last season is a championship one: Jacob Akers (Will & Grace's James Gammon), the sullen new kid from Chicago who was dumped at his grandparents' farm by his frustrated father (Tom Arnold) and who's the closest thing to a "natural" Norway has seen in a while.
Looking at life in squeaky clean Norway, one can't help but wonder what happens to the boys who don't like baseball and the girls who want more out of life than to become some local ballplayer's girlfriend and hang out at the Dairy Queen. But this isn't that kind of movie. This is the kind of story in which city folk can't be trusted, drugs are non-existent, women like Polly are out of touch with the needs of hearth and home, and men like Coach Van Scoyoc are filled with cornpone wisdom and have a baseball metaphor for every occasion. Still, it moves along at a brisk pace, the ball games are skillfully done and its point about the need for local decisions -- like the closing a school -- to be made at the local level is a point well made. leave a comment --Ken Fox
Yes it's as corny as Kansas in August, but this admittedly formulaic sports drama is base on a true story and has something important to say about the fate of many small Midwestern American towns whose popular sports teams fall victim to school consolidation.