Making Movie Memories

One of my accomplishments at Cherokee Creek is to have avoided authorship of a blog for well over a year. And if you

Will's blogs are rare, but always have great advice!

William's blogs are rare, but always have great advice!

decide to read this modest contribution, you may end up hoping that I quickly start another streak of avoidance, procrastination and outlandish excuse-making!

Once I was backed into a corner with no apparent means of escape, my plan was to write something easy and brief. I decided to create a list of  “approved movies” for the upcoming Holiday Break!.  But I began to sense trouble when my list of recommendations quickly surpassed 50 movies. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I feverishly began organizing my gargantuan list into subsections. I knew I was really in trouble when I began considering which were the best Samurai melodramas to include. After all, what list is complete without including “Zatoichi – The Blind Swordsman, Volume 7”? I’m not kidding, it’s great ’60s cinema from Japan with a strong message of morality and justice. Think Hopalong Cassidy in a kimono and swinging a sharp sword.

I really went overboard with sports movies. I know it’s a ‘guy’ thing, but it was no problem coming up with three dozen sports movies everyone should be able to quote around the dinner table. So I’m asking you to ‘take one for the gipper’ and consider my baker’s dozen list of off-beat and value-laden sports films. I’ve tried to stay away from the most obvious choices (“Hoosiers”, “Friday Night Lights”, “Field of Dreams”, etc.) and you might wonder at my loose definition of sports (chess and spelling are included), but I hope something on the list will spark your interest. I hope that you will watch  them with your son. And, mostly, I hope you enjoy the time together.

Okay, I’ll stop digressing and actually get to the list of my favorite PG and PG-13 ‘sports’ flicks:

St. Ralph” (2005, PG-13) A low-budget, indie gem from Canada. The story of a boy who spends most of his time confusing fantasy and reality and magically thinks that running the Boston Marathon will help his mother recover from illness. Very touching, very funny. WARNING – there’s one scene that might make you uncomfortable when the hero’s sexual fantasies get a little out of hand.

Finding Forrester” (2000, PG-13) This movie features Sean Connery, literature and basketball. And if that’s not enough, there’s a wonderful message of connection, kindness, truth and redemption. I can’t recommend this one enough.

Searching for Bobby Fisher” (1993, PG) One of my favorite films about learning to love your child and not the aspirations you have for him. It’s about chess tournaments, but it could be about any sport.

Akeelah and the Bee” (2006, PG) How do you spell HEARTFELT? If you haven’t seen this movie, watch it. It’s a great story of determination and making good choices.

Bend it Like Beckham” (PG-13) The dance scene at the wedding party is worth the rental. The story of an Indian girl in the UK finding the balance between a traditional family and a non-traditional love of football.

Believe In Me” ( 2006, PG) Another great girls basketball film, this one set in Oklahoma. Lots of sports films take more than a little liberty with the truth. This one, by all accounts, is solidly based in fact. And more inspirational for it!

The Black Stallion” (1979, G) I’m somewhat of an expert on equestrian cinema, due entirely to my daughter’s love of horses and riding. And I can safely say this is one of the best of that genre. Made by Coppola between the first two installments of “The Godfather”, the first half is a beautiful dreamlike sequence about the connection between animals and children. Mickey Rooney helps make the second half equally moving.

Forever Strong” (2008, PG-13) Bad choices lead a talented rugby player into serious trouble. But with some value-laden help, redemption is possible. Your son will probably relate to the clear demarcation between the good guys and the bad ones.

The Winning Season” (2010, PG-13) It never hurts for a great high school basketball movie to be set in Indiana. This one pairs a looser of a dad with a struggling girls team. Together they restore faith and values to one another in equal measure. A very sweet film.

Eight Men Out” (PG) John Sayles is one of my favorite directors and his retelling of the Black Sox scandal is both accurate and moving.

Sixty Six” (2010, PG-13) This one stretches the sports theme a bit, but it’s worth considering if you can find it. It’s the actual story of the film director’s bar mitzvah, which happened to coincide with England’s last , and totally unexpected, world cup championship. Funny and poignant.

The Perfect Game” (2010, PG) The true story of a Mexican team that unexpectedly made it to the Little League World Series in the late ’50s.

Galipolli” (1981, PG) My list wouldn’t be complete without an entry from down under. This is the story of two young, aspiring track stars (an early role for Mel Gibson) in Australia who run off to World War I. It’s the story of friendship and the tragedy of the ill conceived Dardanelles campaign where so many ANZ soldiers perished.

Here’s hoping you find some time during holiday visits and vacations to enjoy one or more of my favorites! There’s nothing that encourages “real and true” discussion than a good flick and a big bowl of popcorn.

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The Best Thanksgiving Anywhere…Ever

Phil gets the bird's ready for roasting.

Phil gets the birds ready for roasting.

“Wow, that was the best Thanksgiving dinner anywhere…ever.”

That comment was overheard and much appreciated by the students and staff who started the preparation 14 hours earlier; and reflects on a tradition that started when Cherokee Creek Boys School opened eight years earlier.

From its first year, Cherokee Creek Boys School was committed to celebrating the traditional Thanksgiving feast with our own special flare. We wanted our students to feel the joy and excitement that comes with this holiday and to be able to create rich memories that they could take with them when they graduated.

The central ingredient of any Thanksgiving is the turkey. At CCBS we decided to create a ritual around the preparation by pit-roasting the turkeys.  This is a fabulous ritual that is present in cultures all over the world.  At CCBS we start with selecting student volunteers for a special “turkey team” who prepare the pit in advance of cooking the turkeys. Then at 1:00am early Thanksgiving morning these boys wake to build a bonfire over the pit and continue to feed a roaring fire for the next four hours. At the end of that time the pit is full of red hot glowing embers.

Once we have this bed of coals, we bury the turkeys (this year we had 5 turkeys) surrounded on all sides and top and bottom by at least 6 inches of coals. Then the pit is covered with dirt which seals in the heat and allows the turkeys to slow roast. Just before dawn, the turkeys safely roasting in the pit, the boys head back to bed, tired, a little smokey, and full of satisfaction for a job well done.

Six hours later, the “turkey team” is back to carefully uncover the turkeys. This is no time for a stray shovel blade to pierce the wrappings, so the students proceed with archeology-type precision. Once uncovered, the turkeys are brought to the kitchen where they are carved and presented as the central piece of a grand feast.

It is remarkable to watch the transformation as these boys take ownership and pride in this monumental task. They spent the night growing in friendships and memories, they see the spectacle of the feast and the shining eyes of those gathered to help celebrate, and they take pride in hearing the words of praise and knowing of their part in this meaningful tradition.

For more  about the process of pit roasting turkeys at Cherokee Creek Boys School, click on  Bear Tracks Newsroom for photos of this year’s Thanksgiving holiday celebration.

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No Longer This Person

Ben heads to graduation, mask in hand

Ben heads to graduation, mask in hand

On Friday we celebrated Ben’s graduation. As always, it was a solemn, sweet, fun and meaningful experience filled with several rituals that intentionally fill this rite of passage. One of the early actions a graduate takes during his ceremony is the burning of his mask. The mask is symbolic of the person he used to be. Like a snake leaving behind its skin, he burns the mask to represent he is no longer this person.

Ben’s graduation was filled with comments about his attention to detail. So, it is fitting that the process showcased here of creating (and destroying) a mask reflects Ben’s simple yet detailed reflection on the person he was and has grown out of. There are two short videos below. The first is of Therapist Carla Shorts applying the plaster casting to cast a mold of Ben’s face. The second is a quick slideshow of the complete journey from casting to burning.

Congratulations, Ben! We are proud of you and the hard work you have done on your journey of self-discovery!

Video of Ben’s mask being created (1:12):

Slides of the whole process (:29):

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The Power of Tradition

The team at about 1:00 AM Thanksgiving morning.

Five members of the team at about 1:00 AM Thanksgiving morning. From left: Jon, Adrian, Daniel, Calvin and Drew.

It’s 12:30 AM Thanksgiving morning; it’s cold, dark and most people are sleeping. But 6 Cherokee Creek Boys School students are slowly waking, dressing and making their way into the dark to our turkey roasting pit. These 6 boys are the 2010 Turkey Roasting Team, who have eagerly volunteered to stay up all night feeding logs into a bonfire  to create a massive bed of coals. The fire must be carefully tended and fed for 5 hours to create enough coals to cover five turkeys…the main course for the coming Thanksgiving feast for CCBS students, staff and guests. Once the turkeys are covered with coals, the entire pit is covered with dirt to seal in the heat and allow the turkeys to slow-roast for another 5 hours.

It’s a lot to ask of any teen to give up sleep, be fully attentive and be self-managed throughout the night, but our team meets the challenge  with determination, enthusiasm and a large amount of fun. Pit-roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving has been a tradition since we opened CCBS…a ritual that has been passed on by each generation of students.

There is something comforting and meaningful that keeps us returning to the same traditions every year. Rituals, traditions and celebrations have the power to strengthen and unify families…yours, the CCBS family and the society at large.

At CCBS our mission is to, “challenge boys and their families to discover what is real and true about themselves and the world around them.” I imagine that, while quietly staring into a crackling fire, the members of our Turkey Teams have discovered something about themselves. No doubt they have thought about their families at home. And, maybe their thoughts were also that they are stronger than they thought, more focussed than they thought, or just more sensitive to the world around them than they thought. Their normal markers and priorities are shifted during this night-long vigil and they become more in tune with the rhythms of the world.

It is remarkable to watch the shift in myself and our students as the night slowly creeps along. This “CCBS family” tradition seems to feed our souls as well as our bodies. Just before dawn, with the job completed, these 6 boys make their way back to bed tired, happy and full of a sense of accomplishment.

As most of our boys prepare to return home soon for the holiday break, I challenge you to reflect upon the “real and true” traditions and rituals that define your holiday season and add meaning to your family’s celebration. And I wish you a wonderful celebration of discovery!

Check out this link to the CCBS Bear Tracks Newsroom for more pictures of the Turkey Team in action: Pit-Roasting Photos

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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