Go Tigers! (documentary)

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Massillon, Ohio, is a blue-collar town where the high school football team’s booster club visits maternity wards to congratulate women on delivering boys — future football players, they say. And the women agree, with a “from your lips to God’s ears” sort of attitude. It’s like any of your various “Twilight Zone” episodes where an entire town acts a certain way, except that Massillon, Ohio, is real, and “Go Tigers!” is a documentary about it.

The subject is the 1999 football season — the 106th for the Tigers. Director Kenneth A. Carlson keeps a fairly objective eye, showing us the details of just how football-crazy this town is. In homes where players live, signs hang in the window announcing the fact. The marching band has permission from the mayor to march ANYWHERE IN TOWN on the day of the game versus McKinley (the major rival). Parents routinely hold their 8th-graders back a year in order to make them older, tougher and more experienced by the time they start high school football. Massillon High School’s football stadium is huge, with a scoreboard that probably cost more than many schools’ entire sports budgets.

Which bring us to a matter of intrigue at the time of the documentary’s filming: Aside from the football program, the school is falling apart. Where there used to be 17 buses, now there is one. Textbooks are in short supply. A tax levy is needed, but voters keep turning it down. One theory for this: Last year, the Tigers had a losing season, and residents don’t want to pay more money for a school that isn’t bringing them quality football. Thus, if the Tigers do well this year, maybe the levy will pass.

So as testosterone flows like water through the streets of Massillon, the documentary focuses on the three main players, each of whom credits football with keeping him out of trouble. Their parents say the same thing. One man points out how the whole town turns out for home games: “Maybe this is God’s way of bringing everyone together for 10 weeks out of the year.”

Who’s to argue? Not Carlson, who lets both points of view — the one that says these people are crazy, and the one that says don’t knock it — have a presence in the film. The viewer makes up his own mind as to the relative importance of football. In the meantime, there’s some great sports footage, some colorful characters, and a great insight into the mind of a Midwestern football town.

B+ (1 hr., 44 min.; R, frequent harsh profanity.)