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Community Cinema features small-town Indiana basketball team

Illinois Public Media’s free Community Cinema screening for April follows the down-but-not-out Medora, Ind., high school basketball team, whose struggles parallel its town’s fight for survival.

In Indiana, where communities love their high school basketball, what happens when a beloved team can no longer win a single game? Medora is an in-depth, deeply personal look at small town life; a thrilling, underdog basketball story; and an inspiring tale of a community refusing to give up hope despite the brutal odds stacked against them.

Sponsored by the Illinois Public Media/Spurlock Museum Community Cinema Partnership, the screening and discussion takes place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 1st, at the Spurlock Museum, 600 S. Gregory St., Urbana. Free parking is available in U of I lot D-22 next to the museum.

On the discussion panel are Robert Hughes, Jr., professor, University of Illinois Department of Human and Community Development; Mary Maurer, assistant dean for field education and clinical assistant professor of field education, U of I School of Social Work; and Carol Wilson-Smith, clinical assistant professor of field education, U of I School of Social Work.

Years ago, Medora was a booming rural community with a thriving middle class. But the factories and farms have closed and the population has dwindled. Filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart traveled to the tiny town after reading a 2009 story in The New York Times about the struggles of the basketball team. The next fall, with the blessing of Medora High School and the local community, they began to document a year in the life of some of the players and coaches.

The Hornets’ three coaches are all volunteers who hold down full-time jobs as a cop, a preacher, and a stonecutter. Rusty Rogers, the six-foot, five-inch center, is virtually homeless due to his mother’s problems with alcohol, and lives with point guard Zach Fish in public housing. Shooting guard Dylan McSoley wonders whether he should reach out to his dad, a man he’s never met who lives in the next town over. Robby Armstrong, a farmer’s son, wants to be the first in his family to complete high school, while Chaz Cowles, arrested on a gun charge, does his best to stay out of trouble with the law.

While the film follows this particular team in this particular place, ultimately Medora is a film about America, and the thousands of small towns across the country facing the same fight. As one resident observes, “Once we lose these small towns, we can’t get them back.”

Medora premieres on the PBS series Independent Lens at 9 p.m. Monday, March 31st, on WILL-TV.

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