‘Wrestle’: A Striking Examination Of Race, Poverty & High School Sports In Alabama [Review]

There aren’t many ways out of poverty. The socioeconomic constraints that pin families in place don’t often let up from one generation to the next. This, though, is the antithesis to the American Dream of upward mobility. And while we are gradually coming to terms with this reality—that circumstances at home and in the community and in society will prevent a great many from achieving even relief from grinding poverty—we continue to buy into higher education as an escape, a sort of rocket ship loaded with the possibility to launch people into the middle class. This fanciful belief belies that fact that college itself is untenable for so many for myriad reasons, from its unreasonable cost to the time it demands. One loophole, for a select few gifted students, is sports. Following in the footsteps of “Hoop Dreams” and “Undefeated,” “Wrestle” captures the hardships and hopes of four young men in Alabama as they fight for the scholarships that could change their lives.

Directed by Suzannah Herbert, alongside co-director Lauren Belfer, “Wrestle” is the story of one season at Huntsville’s failing J.O. Johnson High School during which four wrestlers, Jailen, Jamario, Teague, and Jaquan, compete for their spot at the state championships and for the future that comes with that glory. And while the kids’ courageous fight faces long enough odds as is, they, alongside their coach Chris Scribner, are also wrestling with race, mental health, drugs, poverty, and unstable homes. The point that “Wrestle” inevitably makes is that these kids and this story are not unusual. Certainly, they have talent as wrestlers, but the circumstances they are all fighting against are not unique.

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