A Look at Youth Sports Films

by Bethany Rose

Depending on what listicle I read or quiz I take, I am either squarely an ‘80s kid or squarely a ‘90s kid (with the exception of not having cable, which means no beloved Nickelodeon memories for me). Based on my actual birth year, I really am both. I was the right age to own a Cabbage Patch Doll when they were the hot toy of the moment, and I downed a can of Crystal Pepsi at recess during my grade school years. Many of my memories are connected to movies of both time periods. As a child of the ‘80s, I love horror, especially franchises like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. As a child of the ‘90s, I was treated to a special subgenre of films.

I have an interesting relationship with sports. I don’t enjoy watching most of the typical competitive American sports like football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. But I watch nearly every event in the Olympics (except for things like basketball and hockey). Still, one of my favorite subgenres of films is the sports film. Whether the sport is the main focus, or one of the elements of the film, whether it is serious or silly, I love sports films: Rocky, Breaking Away, Happy Gilmore, Hoop Dreams, Miracle—all movies I can watch over and over.  Fortunately for me, there were plenty of sports films released in my childhood, and they are still some of the films I love the most.

This list is for those films that provided me countless hours of entertainment in my childhood, many of which focus on friendship and overcoming adversity. But before I let you know what films are on the list, a brief explanation of films that were disqualified. I didn’t include any films that weren’t from the ‘90s (so sorry, Daniel-San) and I didn’t include sports films that were probably aimed at a family audience, but did not star kids (sorry, Rudy). So pull up a lawn chair, grab a cool drink, and enjoy these five must-see sports films.

  1. Little Big League: While you can infer from the title that baseball is the sport featured in this film, you might be surprised to learn that it is not about a rag-tag team of little leaguers. Instead, the featured team is the Minnesota Twins. Though the players are all adults (sometimes acting quite childlike) a 12-year-old boy inherits the team. The film follows his attempt to be taken seriously and lead his team to wins, while still making time for homework and friends. Because the film has only one main child protagonist, it is able to balance some more adult themes while still maintaining a family friendly tone.
  1. Rookie of the Year: Talk about a lucky break (please tell me this is a tagline of the film)! After Henry Rowengartner breaks his arm, you’d think his attempts to strengthen his baseball skills had just faced a major setback. But not so fast! After his cast is removed, young Henry finds he can pitch a ball at major-league breaking speeds. A pre-teen owning a major league team is one thing, but imagine being the newest pitcher for the Chicago Cubs before you even got your first pimple. This movie only slightly edged out Little Big League because I find Gary Busey slightly more interesting than Timothy Busfield.
  1. Little Giants: Oh Junior Floyd, you are truly the best thing that happened to the game of football. Uh, where was I? Right. One reason Little Giants is so good is that it is not just the story of two Peewee football teams—one seemingly made up of the strongest, fastest, most knowledgeable player, and one made up of all the kids who didn’t make that team. It is also a film about small towns, and young love, and two brothers who couldn’t be more different. That those brothers are played by Rick Moranis and Ed O’Neill also helps. Little Big League and Rookie of the Year have mostly adult casts, but Little Giants has great acting and entertaining characters, while also boasting the most youth-filled cast of the list so far. Besides the dreamy Junior, there is Becky, who is torn between wanting to prove her uncle made a huge mistake by offering her a spot as a cheerleader rather than a spot on the team, and being head-over-heels for Junior, who she assumes would rather be with a cheerleader than a teammate. Rudy Zolteck is a gas. Jake Berman’s health issues and seemingly frail physique won’t keep him down. And “Hot Hands” Hanon can’t catch a football, but he is an ace when it comes to catching toilet paper. Even the “bad guys” will keep you entertained, particularly Spike and his dad. The whole film is incredibly enjoyable and never gets old.
  1. The Sandlot: You might be screaming “You’re killin’ me Smalls!” for not listing this film first. And for good reason. The Sandlot is a heartwarming tale of nostalgia. It is certainly the most quotable film on this list. It also might break away more from its sport theme than any of the other films on this list, as Smalls’ family life, the Beast in Mertle’s backyard, and a summer of friendship are all prominent parts of the script. If you’ve seen The Sandlot, you probably remember the S’mores in the treehouse, the puking at the carnival, and, of course, Wendy Peffercorn’s “resuscitation” of Squints at the swimming pool as much, or even more, than you remember any of the actual Sandlot games (with the exception of the ball clearing the fence). Still, the antics in the film are all connected to that Sandlot in one way or another, and I think The Sandlot can hold its own against some of the more adult baseball films any day.
  1. The Mighty Ducks and D2: The Mighty Ducks: Quack! Quack! I honestly cannot pick a clear winner between these two stellar hockey movies. The first film is great because the fish-out-of-water story is not about any one of the players, but rather Coach Bombay. Not that hockey is different to him, but it was a sport the hot shot lawyer thought he’d left behind. Now that he is ordered to coach the team that seems destined to only win forfeited games, his past comes back to haunt him. Gordon Bombay’s rivalry with Coach Reilly of the Hawks is great to watch, especially when one of Reilly’s star players, Adam Banks, learns that he has to play for the Ducks. While I love this part of the story, I was never as interested in the love story between Gordon and Casey (especially after watching D2 and finding out that story went nowhere).

“Ducks fly together!” “I bet if that puck was a cheeseburger you’d stop it!” “Greenland is covered with ice, and Iceland is very nice!” “We will Quack you!” For me, D2 is far more quotable than the first, and I do love a quotable movie. My two least favorite Ducks from the first one, siblings Tammy and Tommy, are among some of the original Ducks who are missing from this cast. Now that Gordon Bombay is asked to be coach of Team USA at the Junior Goodwill Games, he takes some of his former Ducks and adds new talent to the roster, so, to paraphrase Jan, the New Ducks and the Old Ducks must unite. The rivalry between Iceland still connects more to Coach Bombay’s history and insecurities than those of any of the Team USA members, but that group still has plenty of memorable scenes. Whether it is shopping on Rodeo Drive as a Spelling, or learning the proper way to fight in hockey, I think D2 slightly edges out its predecessor.