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Film grapples with athlete's triumphs

Date: 1/6/2010

Jan. 6, 2010.

By Mike Briotta

PRIME Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- While the new film "The Blind Side" is capturing the attention of theatergoers worldwide with it's real-life story an athlete overcoming adversity -- a local man is sharing his own dramatic story of a Springfield wrestler's hardships.

The documentary titled "George: Wrestling with Resistance," which premiered at the Basketball Hall of Fame this past fall, depicts the saga of collegiate grappler George Hargrove, a graduate of Central High School who currently attends Springfield Technical Community College.

Like the protagonist of "The Blind Side," Hargrove overcame a rough childhood and excelled at his chosen sport. Unlike the main character in that movie, however, Hargrove never benefited from a wealthy surrogate family. His mother was just 16 when he was born; Hargrove was only 11 when he learned that his father, an alleged drug dealer, had been murdered.

Hargrove didn't grow up in a McMansion. He was never sponsored by rich benefactors. He grew up in the projects, and he moved around a lot, filmmaker Tim O'Donnell said, who was inspired by the story of a young man who didn't have the resources that most athletes have -- but still persevered.

O'Donnell teaches and coaches at the high school Hargrove attended. He met the film's subject four years ago at wrestling practice.

He's wanted to make a movie about Hargrove ever since.

"It was my first year teaching," the filmmaker remembered. "I was right out of college. The head coach, Darby McLaughlin, put me with George for training. There are probably 60-70 guys who go out for the team each year." Whether serendipity or good planning, the pairing of Hargrove with O'Donnell paid off.

By the time Hargrove's senior year rolled around, O'Donnell had become the wrestling team's interim head coach as well as the young man's mentor. According to O'Donnell, Hargrove is a quiet leader who always put others first.

"I once witnessed another coach give George a duffle bag to replace the plastic grocery bag he was using to carry his workout gear," O'Donnell recalled. "George shined an inspiring smile followed by a sincere 'Thank you.' He found a pack of Tic Tac mints inside the duffle bag and asked if he could keep them. When the coach approved, George gave a Tic Tac to each wrestler on the bus."

According to the filmmaker, Hargrove also stood out as the only student at the school who didn't have a lock on his locker. He didn't need one; everyone had respect for Hargrove's quiet leadership style.

The other wrestling coaches also formed close familial bonds with the talented athlete. Assistant wrestling coach Justin Stratton, gave Hargrove a ride home from school each day.

O'Donnell is not only a wrestling coach, but also chair of the fine arts department at Central. O'Donnell himself was a standout wrestler in school; he was twice named an Academic All-American Wrestler at Springfield College.

He sees Hargrove as a great example of Springfield's young people who don't get talked about enough for their accomplishments.

"City kids get a bad rap," said O'Donnell. "But with George, I think a lot of people are seeing a different persona. Every tournament he was at, other coaches would be asking about him. They admired him. He's a product of his community, and soon people realized that none of the negative connotations [about Springfield] hold up."

The documentary follows Hargrove through his freshman year wrestling in college when he traveled to the National Wrestling Championship. The short documentary was made on the flimsiest of shoestring budgets. "We had no funding for the project," O'Donnell said of his first film.

His 32-minute documentary is making the rounds locally, and has been submitted to 15 different festivals, including the prestigious film festival in Cannes, France and the Sundance Film Festival in Utah. "I'm just happy that we're getting the word out," O'Donnell said.

Anyone interested in a screening of the film close to home should be able to watch the documentary at STCC in March. DVD copies are also available at All proceeds from sales of the film, which retails on DVD for $20, go directly to Hargrove's college fund.