Without question, The Heart of the Game is the best film I have seen in 2006.  The only unfortunate thing about it is that it is in limited release throughout the country.  If it is currently playing in your area, see it soon or you may lose your chance.  

This engaging documentary about a high school girls’ basketball team originated as the chronicle of a single season.  Thankfully, director Ward Serrill was so taken with his subjects that he continued filming for seven years.  The result is a 97-minute exploration of leadership, team dynamics, virtue, and the drama of a young person’s life.

The Heart of the Game follows coach Bill Resler, who takes a struggling Roosevelt Roughriders varsity team and turns it into a competitive program in only a few months.  His method is as impressive as his results, a method that challenges the girls to form their characters as well as their bodies.  He teaches them to work out the problems in their team relationships, building trust which leads them to victory.

The beauty of Serrill’s film goes beyond valuable lessons about leadership and virtue.  Its style is refreshingly simple, and the lack of showy technique allows the story to take center stage.  Serrill could not have captured a more perfect narrative if he had worked from a purely fictional script.  The drama on the court and in the players’ lives is real and far more engrossing than most fiction films.

Most of the story centers on Darnellia Russell, an extremely talented player who draws national attention from college recruiters.  When she is declared ineligible to play her last season (for reasons best left as a surprise), the team chooses to stand by her, which may force them to forfeit their entire season.  Her legal battle for the right to play is an inspiring display of courage.

Overall, The Heart of the Game is impressive because it is a humble and exuberant portrayal of real people living the human drama of sin and redemption.  The filmmakers are fortunate they stuck around to witness these events, and I am grateful they did.