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McFarland, USA Movie Honors Small-town Heroes

Kevin Costner portrays a cross-country coach who helped bring a city together

By Livability.com on February 18, 2015

Courtesy of Disney

Inspired by a true story, the new Disney movie McFarland, USA celebrates a group of novice runners who overcame prejudice and self doubt to win the California state cross-country title in 1987. The movie hits screens this weekend, shining a light on the small town of McFarland, Calif., which is home to about 13,745 people. In the movie, actor Kevin Costner plays coach Jim White, a newcomer to a predominantly Latino high school who discovers a group of boys who possess not only an exceptional running ability but the determination and drive to become champions. It’s also the story of how a once poor farming town that faced gang violence is now a growing city that offers higher quality of life, strong infrastructure and places a priority on education. 

McFarland’s Story Goes Worldwide

“What this movie does for us now is that it allows for the celebration to go beyond the city of McFarland and into the world,” Manuel Cantu, the mayor of McFarland told bakersfieldnow.com. “I think what this movie does is that it shows how hard work, dedication and faith in God allow people to reach that American dream.”

Today, the city’s parks and recreation program offers young children the chance to participate in cross-country. McFarland runners are respected across the state, and college scouts have been known to come in and search for new talent. Cantu says the movie has helped to inspire and encourage young children in McFarland.

“These second-graders and third-graders … they look up to these runners. They’re inspired by their stories,” Cantu says.

How McFarland Has Changed

Dario Diaz, assistant principal at McFarland High School says the cross-country team’s success has helped to improve the community. Diaz talked with Sarah Barker, who wrote about the movie and the real story for Fittish.Deadspin.com. Diaz, who himself was a cross-country runner coached by White, says city leaders are working to bring in jobs and have helped create and enforce laws that protect children from working long hours in the grape fields. Parks and after-school activities give kids more things to do. Diaz says the movie gets many things right, including the emotions and pride the town experienced for their runners and the way White started a revolution in McFarland, broke racial boundaries and gave the city something to fight for. 

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