Monday, January 11, 2010

The Blind Side

I enjoyed a special "girl's night out" weekend with a treat of an early dinner at Connie's Pizza ( Since my name is Connie, I should have realized there was a message coming for me right away) and then a trip to see this movie.  This movie grabbed my heart from the very first scene and never let it go. Thank goodness that I had somehow had the foresight to pack my coat pockets with kleenex cause I just could not stop the tears from flowing.

I had been wrestling with the fact that earlier in the week I had lost my temper with my daughter's school and had called them ranting and raving like a banshee crazy woman. My daughter is going to nursing school and also working full time. We pinch together pennies by cutting back on groceries or going without and by struggling we have made it to her second semester of nursing school on our own. Each semester we fill out endless forms for financial aid and are told each year that we just don't qualify. So finally this year she was told that she did qualify and happiness prevailed. She registered for the second semester and was told that since she had financial aid in place we didn't need to sign up for the payment plan. Then on Christmas Eve we received a letter pulling rug out from under our feet. She no longer qualified for financial aid because she had taken too many classes previously? How this makes any sense is still not clear to me. But the possibility of her losing her spot in nursing school and now the school being closed for Christmas holidays so we can talk to no one. I sat and stewed for days on end. Finally making it to the school as soon as the offices opened. The lady at the counter (who is the spitting image of the lady at the child welfare office) spoke to me in a dead monotone rehearsed speech to go get this form, complete it, come back and wait in line to make an appeal. The form she sent us to get takes five days and of course you had to pay for it. An endless treadmill of nothing and this is so typical of how government works. And the people working for government have lost all semblance to human beings who care about others, when this truly is their job. To help others. I lost my temper becasue this was not happening to me, it was happening to my child, my daughter, a child who has struggled climbing over obstacle after obstacle to get to this point only to find more obstacles and no one that even cared. Then I saw this movie -

and went on to discover it was a true story

The movie is the The Blind Side, written and directed by John Lee Hancock, based on the book The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game by the non-fiction author Michael Lewis.

Michael Oher

Michael Oher was born May 28, 1986 in Memphis, Tennessee.

The cards were stacked against him from birth. Michael's dad wasn't involved in Oher's upbringing at all and was shot and thrown off a bridge when Michael was junior-high aged. His mother was was also distant, far more involved in her crack cocaine addiction than her sons life.

Michael attended first and second great each twice, and then another school bumped him up to fourth grade without having gone through third grade at all. Most years Oher missed upwards of 50 days during the school year, but the Memphis schools chose to pass-him anyways, because of the hassle and classroom distraction that would be caused by keeping a student back a grade. Michael was enrolled in 11 different schools during his first nine academic years. This includes the 18 month gap, primarily around the age of 10, that Michael didn't go to school at all.

Mike was essentially an orphan. He would crash were he could and was particularly connected with a 400-pound man in the Memphis ghetto named Tony Henderson, or Big Tony. Big Tony had a son, Steven Payne. Tony's dying mom's final wish was for Tony to enroll his son, Steven, in a Christian school.

Big Tony decided if he was taking Steven, he would try to enroll Mike (also known as Big Mike) into the school, Briarcrest Christian School.

Oher was certainly not "Briarcrest material," with a poor academic record (9th percentile on testing and .6 GPA), nor did he have the Christian upbringing and passion that the school was based upon.

Hugh Freeze, the schools football coach tried to help the school view Oher as an exception to be considered. Even with the blessing of the Briarcrest's president, Oher was not admitted by the Principal Steve Simpson, and instead Oher was given the opportunity to try to succeed one semester in a home study program, and if he performed well for a semester, he would be accepted into the school.

Over the course of a couple months Big Tony called Principal Simpson and relayed the struggles Oher was having. Overcome by guilt/compassion, Simpson felt the right decision was to enroll Oher in the school, particularly since his home study program offer had actually hurt Oher by pulling him out of the public school system.

The early weeks were horrible, many described it as though Oher had been in a closet for 16 years. He had no social skills, he couldn't talk, and had no academic interaction at all, and many teachers were concerned with what purpose or impact they were having with Big Mike in the center of their classroom.

Sean Touhy, was a point guard at the University of Mississippi in the early-80s and is the all time assist leader for the Southeastern Conference. He was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 1982 but never played a game with them. In 2002 when he met Big Mike, he was a wealthy (but deeply in debt) business man who owned 60 Taco Bells, a private jet, was a radio broadcaster for the Memphis Grizzlys, was involved in his large church (Grace Evangelical Church), and was married to his high school sweetheart, Leigh Ann Touhy.

Sean and Leigh Ann also have a daughter, Collins, who was a sophomore at Briarcrest the year Big Mike started.

Sean Touhy enjoyed hanging out at the Briarcrest gym and one day had an encounter with Mike, who always wore the same clothes and didn't even money for lunch. Sean Touhy had compassion for Big Mike and set up an account for Mike to be able to buy lunch at the school cafeteria.

It was months later, over Thanksgiving break, that Sean and Leigh Anne were driving and saw Mike coming off a bus in the same cut of jeans and t-shirt. Leigh Anne, a interior decorator from Memphis, had great compassion on Mike and began crying when he said he was going to the gym to get warm.

The next day Leigh Anne left her interior decorating firm and picked up Mike from school to go buy him clothes.

On the football field they were also finding out that this 344 pound sophomore could run, and although he attended practice, he could never play because of academic probation. Not only that, but he had only limited experience playing football, had no foundation of the game, and was very timid and passive. But Coach Freeze was excited about Mike's potential, and continued to work with him. Mike also played basketball and participated in track and field (discus and shot put).

Michael stayed the night with as many as five Briarcrest families, but usually stayed in the trailer of a friend Quinterio Franklin. One night when Leigh Anne Touhy drove Mike to Quinterio's trailer, she saw it, and his air mattress and insisted in that moment that Michael move in with her and her family.

Mike became the third child of Leigh Anne and Sean (with children Collins and Sean Jr., 8 at the time). It was a few weeks on the couch and then Leigh Anne bought a dresser and bed, and Mike was a part of the family, and Sean Jr.'s best friend.

Leigh Anne and Sean would then go on to legally adopt Oher into their family.

With some tutoring and attention from the Touhy's, Michael Oher became an exceptional left tackle on the football field and soon found his name on scouting reports for college. His academic record was also greatly improved, allowing him to play football, and suddenly recruiters became interested in this left tackle.

This was new territory for the Briarcrest Athletic department and Sean Touhy's experience proved instrumental in making sure the scouting was handled in a way to optimize Michael's opportunity.

ESPN's Tom Lemming ranked him as the #1 offensive line prospect in 2004.

With offers from University of Tennessee, North Carolina State, Louisiana State, University of Alabama, Oher chose to go to University of Mississippi (Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy's Alma Mater). This was met with speculation because of the Touhy's relationship with Oher, and it was made worse as his coach Hugh Freeze became Ole Miss' assistant athletic director less than a month after Oher signed his letter of intent.

Oher played at Ole Miss, with much success and accolades, and in January 2008 decided to enter the draft, but changed his mind, deciding to finish his senior year.

In 2009 Oher was drafted in the first round, pick number 23 to the Baltimore Ravens, retaining his jersey number of 74 from Ole Miss. On April 26, 2009 he signed a 5 year $13 million dollar contract with the Ravens playing offensive tackle.

The Blind Side

The Blind Side stars Quinton Aaron as Michael Oher, alongside Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw playing Leigh Anne and Sean Touhy. Kathy Bates plays Oher's tutor. Jae Head plays Sean Jr., and Lily Collins plays Collins Touhy.

ESPN reports that many coachs, including Phillip Fulmer, Ed Orgeron, Tommy Tuberville, Nick Saban, Houston Nutt, and Lou Holtz are all to make appearances in the film as well.

The film isn't necessarily groomed as an Award-season film, and while Quinton Aaron probably won't walk away from the film with gold statues for his role, I would expect his performance as this Real (Reel) Person will impact lives and lead people to tears as this touching and powerful story of human compassion (and the importance of the left tackle) unfolds.

I left this movie knowing that no matter how hard the circumstances in my families lives and struggles have been they are nothing compared to the stories of so many young black men and women. I am grateful that even though it's hard and feels like we are suffering by cutting back on groceries, movies, and special treats we make do, and we are truly blessed to have the life we do. So many do not even have anyone who cares or gives them a chance.

I hope we all can open up our Blind Sides and see what we can accomplish by just being loving to one another.

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