Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

A Cop, a Pastor and a Stonecutter

Anyone who has lived or spent time in a town without a stop light will appreciate the documentary Medora about a small Indiana berg without industry and hope, but with a basketball team.


The Medora Hornets basketball team is also hopeless, with an endless skein of winless games. But the coaches – a cop, a pastor and a stonecutter – don’t accept defeat as inevitable. They push their players to play against all odds, to prove in some small way that small towns can still be winners, if nowhere else than the hardwood.

The 82-minute documentary centering on a 70-student high school has won rave reviews for filmmakers Andrew Cohn and Davy Rothbart for making a hapless basketball team the metaphor for a town dying on the vine.

But do we need a documentary for this insight? Does inducing nostalgia or respect for game underdogs produce the kind of change necessary to reverse the economic fate of rural America?

The metaphor that captured my attention was the improbable mix of coaches, men from thee walks of life who share a duty to turn chaff into wheat. They are realists who haven’t lost faith.

The struggle to salvage something slipping away requires dedication, not daydreams. The coaches search for victory by looking for a small edge, a play that their lesser players can outfox the other team’s better players. These are the instincts needed to overcome adversity, to find a sliver of success in the ashes of failure.

This movie in all likelihood won’t win an Oscar. But regardless what awards it collects, the provides an uncomfortable reminder of a way of life in vast swaths of our country that are close to ending the journey from dust to dust.

Like many Americans, I never could imagine living in a tiny town and laid my track in larger cities. But as a child, I spent time in a small Iowa town where my grandmother and aunts lived. As a young adult, my first professional jobs were in small coastal cities.

They all left indelible impressions. People don’t sink into anonymity. Individuals stuck out. It was more than you knew everyone by name, you also knew what they stood for. In the suburban area where I live now, I barely know my neighbors names.

Small towners don’t live for all the material rewards city dwellers do. They sacrifice choice and opportunity for tranquility and stability.

We can fault or even snicker at our fellow Americans who cling to a way of life that seems out of step. But like the Medora Hornets, you have to give them credit for still playing the game.

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