Last seconds . . . Tie game . . .
The NCAA lacrosse championship is on the line . . .
It's Tony Washington Time!
Tony Washington, the only black player
on the field, All-American senior midfielder for Johns Hopkins takes the ball on a rush as the clock ticks down. Weaves his way through the defense, closing on the goalie. Leaps
into the air, twisting his body in a way that doesn't seem possible and firing the ball past the goalie just as the final
For Tony the game marks the perfect
end to his college career at Hopkins. Medical school starts up in the fall and
he had his choice of schools, making his hard driving father Lamont Washington, a high-powered Washington lobbyist and attorney,
proud. Everything is going just as planned, including his fast track plans for
his son becoming a doctor.
Until the night after the championship
game, that is. Tony takes his white girl friend Alexandra for a ride in his graduation
present: a Porshe Boxter. But he
gets lost in inner city, ghetto Baltimore. His car is surrounded and Tony and
Alexandra are harassed by a gang of toughs led by Jamal Johnson. A fight breaks
out. Tony ends up wailing away with his lacrosse stick and smacks one of Jamal's
friends hard enough to put him into a coma just before the police arrive.
His father's influence isn't enough
to preclude a trial months later, or the sentence Judge Gafney hands down: Tony
has the choice of going to prison for six months or teaching at an urban high school for the spring semester. He chooses the latter, of course, not realizing that Jefferson High is located just a few blocks away from
where his Porshe was surrounded. His father goes to work right away trying to
get the sentence reduced to simple probation, but in the meantime Tony must leave medical school to become a high school teacher
in an urban battle zone.
Neither the demoralized and cynical
faculty, locked in a vicious labor dispute, nor the burned out principal seem
to care that Tony is even in the building. Unfortunately, his students feel the
same way. Tony might be black but, having been brought up in luxurious surroundings
and wanting for nothing, he finds himself totally unable to relate to these surroundings, encountering an uneasy discrimination. Call him a fish thrown back in waters that he never swam in before.
A sensitive Hispanic teacher named
Anna Ortiz lends him a helping hand and the sage-like school janitor, J.T. Burdine, takes Tony under his wing with the goal
of keeping him alive, if nothing else. And that might be harder than it seems
when none other than gang leader Jamal Johnson shows up in one of his classes.
Lamont Washington fights to expedite
matters in the courts but fares no better with his contacts than Tony does with his students.
Everything he does to try and reach them fails. He becomes a laughing
sock, as Jamal Johnson sits back, waiting to take his revenge.
One morning, Tony finds a lacrosse
stick and ball on the desk in his classroom. Nostalgically, he begins to cradle
the ball in the sticks webbing, imagining the corridor is the Hopkins field and he is darting in for the winning goal. When he comes out of his trance, he realizes his students have been watching him intently,
making Tony realize he has found the way to reach them: He starts a lacrosse
team, fully intending to have the school join the prep league in which his private high school plays.
The trouble is that none of the best
athletes in the school (and the city), like Jamal Johnson, go out for the team. Tony
forges ahead nonetheless, conducting a series of dismal practices before watching his charges get decimated by his alma mater
in their first game, which could also be their last because the simmering labor dispute results in the teachers voting to
adopt a work-for-rule policy that is no sponsorship of after school sports or activities, whatsoever.
But Tony refuses to go along with the edict, risking the scorn and ridicule of his teacher colleagues in the
process. That proves enough to convince Jamal and the other great athletes in
the school to bury their animosity for Tony and join the team. It also helps
Anna Ortiz fall in love with him and Tony comes to realize how much more real and special she is than the spoiled Alexandra
who has distanced herself from him since the sentence.
Tony, though, still can't mold his
newfound players into a team. He needs help and that help comes from a most unlikely
source: school janitor J.T. Burdine, whom Tony finally recognizes as one of the
greatest collegiate lacrosse players of all time until a gambling incident prematurely ended his career. Through a series of innovated and colorful drills, J.T. teaches
the kids not only how to really play the game, but also to play it as a team. And
then they're winning games, getting better with each passing week, rolling right through the playoffs into the prep championship
game when Tony's father appears with news that his sentence has been commuted to simple probation, meaning he can leave Jefferson
and return to med school right away.
Torn by what he should do, Tony seeks
out J.T. Burdine, but learns more than he had bargained for, because J.T. turns out to be his real father, having given Tony
up for adoption after his real mother died in childbirth! That pregnancy, not
gambling, was the real reason J.T. left school in the middle of his senior year. And
it was J.T. who left the lacrosse stick and ball on Tonys desk the morning that started it all.
But J.T.'s words aren't enough to make him abandon his father's wishes and he plans to announce
his intention to the team the following morning. Before he can say a word, though,
another player breaks the shocking news that Jamal Johnson was killed in a gang fight the night before. Tony knows he can't abandon the team now and, much to J.T.'s proud delight, Tony decides to forego medical
school for the rest of the year in favor of finishing the year out as a teacher and coaching his team in the finals. He tries to explain the situation to his father who indignantly offers Tony an ultimatum: Walk away and go back to medical school or be cut off for good. Tony stands up to his father for the first time, leaving his Porshe behind and riding back to school with
Anna Ortiz whom he has fallen in love with.
So the film ends just where it began... with a championship game the following day. Only
this time Tony is coaching from the sidelines as his ragtag mishmash of players battle six-time champion Winsor Prep (Tony's
old high school), coached by a lacrosse guru he has come to see the real side of.
Lamont Washington shows up to try to
talk Tony out of this one more time, but Tony sticks to his guns and refuses to walk away from his school or his players. Lamont storms out of the stadium before the championship game even begins. But his real father, J.T. Burdine, is there to watch with him from the sidelines as Jefferson falls behind
by four goals after the first bone-crunching three quarters. Victory seems unlikely
at best when Jefferson's secret weapon shows up in the form of Jamal Johnson who wasn't killed in a gang fight at all! The whole story was a ruse meant to keep Tony at Jefferson. Newly invigorated, Jefferson stages a furious comeback that ends with Jamal scoring a high-flying, twisting
goal (almost identical to the one Tony scored to win the national championship) to win the game and the prep championship.
Tony enjoys the celebration even more
than he did his own with Hopkins. It''s clear he's staying with Anna Ortiz, J.T.
Burdine, and at Jefferson, saving lives in a way different from what medical school could
ever have taught him.