Opening this week in theaters, McFARLAND, USA, Disney’s newest movie release, tells the inspirational story of cross-country couch Jim White and his team the Cougars. The movie is a dramatic portrayal of a group of young men who worked in the fields of Kern Country, until Jim White stepped in to coach them. With Coach White’s support and determination, as well as the young men’s skills, strength and dedication the team won the ton the title of states in 1989.
The real Diaz brothers, David, Damacio, and Danny as well as, Coach Jim White sat with media to talk about the film.
Coach White, the big, obvious question is how does it feel to have a movie made about you and your first championship team?
Jim: It’s very, realistic in the way that we’re just thrilled to death that it’s happening, and who’s playing me. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Actually, somebody asked me yesterday who would have been my first choice, and I said, “Well, probably Clint Eastwood, maybe, but he’s too old.” The only reason I said that is because a lot of the kids, during my teaching, they always called me Clint because the movies were being shown weekly but it’s very inspiring for us to have this movie about us.
And Diaz brothers, for all three of you, what do you hope audiences will get out of the film?
David: Personally, I think there is a champion in each and every one of us. We just happened to be a part of a great program. We live in a very minuscule type of community, but it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you do. All of us can be, if we choose to be a champion at whatever you choose. And ours happened to be running. So that would be my message.
Damacio: It’s different when we were growing up. All the social media out there and just the negativity. I would say that if you commit to something, give it your all. Give it your best. It doesn’t matter what it is. If you give it your best – try at school, at work, with family, with your relationships. Whatever it may be, just commit to it. Do your best and good things will happen eventually, just like for us. We ran because it was a lifestyle for us. We never expected anything like this. Twenty years later, to see this coming to fruition, it’s such a humbling, yet very exciting thing to be happening for us.
Danny: And I would just like to echo what my brothers. Hard work pays off. Back in 1987 when we won State, that was a thrill for us. Obviously, there’s been more state titles in other years. But I was just so happy to see Disney portraying us how we really were. We were working in the fields, and I’m glad that the whole world is gonna be able to see that. Because so many, Latino families, Hispanic families, that’s our life. We work in our fields, and that’s gonna be our life.
And if it’s not for Mr. White, obviously my parents that instilled in us that education was the door and for us it really was. We hated working in the fields, and we sought a better life.
How does an individual help make a victory like this happen?
Jim: I think my whole philosophy on everything is about attitude. I had to have a good attitude, and I had to transfer that to the kids, a good attitude. In order to, achieve anything, it has to be your attitude. That is the only thing that you can control. I can’t control other feelings about me. I can’t control what happened yesterday or what’s going to maybe happen tomorrow. But the most important thing for me to transfer to these kids is the attitude of hard work can transfer into the classroom, and into your jobs, and into their real lives. So when you have problems in life, and we had problems with building the team and outfitting the team, putting shoes on the team. But it’s how we let the problems affect you in life that’s the main thing, that’ll get you down. These kids were my kids
I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how the cross country program at the high school has changed the town overall, or what impact it’s made on the fabric of the community.
Jim: As an example right now, our town is really changing. They’ve really picked up this thing with cross country. Now have a new city logo – a silhouette of a runner running through the field. Underneath the silhouette, you have “Tradition, Unity, and Excellence.” So that has really changed our whole city. Our school came up with a new logo. We have now a water tank that’s 20 by 80 feet in the town that’s completely dedicated to our state championships. And the silhouettes of runners, a big sunset, the big cougar coming out of the State of California, and their names are on the water tower; everybody’s names that were state champions there.
Diaz brothers, you went on to go to college, completed degrees and came back to McFarland. What about the city inspired you to come back?
Damacio: All of us in our family, it was expected, it was a requirement. My parents really pushed college bound future for us. And so we all graduated, some of us went to different universities in California, and over the years, we kind of migrated back to McFarland. We all live within probably three or four miles from our parents. There are seven of us in our family, and six of us are teachers. I’m a police detective, but we all live in that community because we feel we owe, and we are willing to give back to what we received from the fields, from the community, from the people who live there, from our coaches and teachers – and for us, it was just – it couldn’t be any better.
Danny: Just to add to that, I would definitely say that my parents are the reason why we came back. My mom makes breakfast, she expects you to be there for breakfast every single day. She makes lunch after church on Sundays, and we can find 70, 80 Diazes at my mom’s house. So when you have free food, you’re gonna come – you’re gonna live in McFarland.
Do you think this film will inspire kids that were in your situation as young men?
Jim: I do. I definitely do. I think it’s such an inspiration to see that kids can come out of the fields. Kids can have success with the right attitude and the work ethics that you can pick up from cross country. I definitely do feel that it will inspire a lot of kids to go on and do better.
Danny: More than anything, I think that working the fields, there’s a lot of kids that think they have to stay there, and that it is their calling. We certainly felt that way growing up. It was our lifestyle. I think that this movie going to inspire kids to not only do their best in sports or education, but to know that there’s bigger and better things out there. There are doors that can open. We live in the United States, the greatest country in the world – you can do everything that you set your mind to. I think this movie’s definitely going to inspire young people.
Can you expand on Cheryl’s role as Mrs. Coach, specifically the parts that aren’t portrayed in the film?
Jim: Unfortunately, they didn’t portray her in the proper way. Not that it was bad, but she was so much more than how she was portrayed. She was a mother. She was a hugger. She hugged their sweaty bodies when they came in from practice. She was a provider. She cooked all the time for them. Sometimes burritos – not as good as Mrs. Diaz, but when – we’re on a bus and going to a meet, and they haven’t had anything to eat, then it’s – it’s still very good. She provided cookies and just a love for the kids. She loved them all, hugged them. She was like a mom.
McFarland is in theaters Friday, February 20th and is rated PG.