While Loyola (Md.) raising the NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship trophy on Memorial Day signaled the end of the collegiate lacrosse season, fans of the sport will be able to fill the void of live action by heading out to the movie theater this weekend to catch the first feature-length film about lacrosse.
Crooked Arrows, a story about a Native American high school lacrosse team that competes against better trained and equipped teams from an elite prep school league, opens in theaters nationwide on June 1.
A mixed-blood Native American, Joe Logan, eager to modernize his reservation, must first prove himself to his father, the traditionalist Tribal Chairman, by rediscovering his spirit.
He is tasked with coaching the reservations high school lacrosse team which competes against the better-equipped and better trained players of the elite Prep School League. Joe inspires the Native American boys and teaches them the true meaning of tribal pride. Ignited by their heritage and believing in their new-found potential, coach and team climb an uphill battle to the state championship finals against their privileged prep school rivals. Will they win?
While the film was in development, Johns Hopkins University assistant coach and former player Jamison Koesterer met producers J. Todd Harris and Mitchell Peck through his father, who works for a company that designs and manufactures apparel, garments and uniforms for commercials and Hollywood films.
“It’s a small business, but very popular within the Hollywood community,” Koesterer said. “Through that, scripts come across his desk. Obviously being a father of three kids that played Division I lacrosse, who were born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., when a lacrosse script came across his desk he was very interested.”
About two years ago, because of his background, the producers asked Koesterer to talk to people in the lacrosse community to raise money for the film.
“I never ended up raising any money, but I stuck with Mitchell and Todd and stayed in contact with them,” Koesterer said. “When they decided to hire Sport Studio to do the uniforms, they also hired Mark Ellis, who does sports choreography.”
But while Ellis has coordinated sports action in several movies like Miracle, The Bad News Bears and The Natural, he needed some assistance in making lacrosse look real and authentic on film.
Since he was already connected with the producers, Koesterer – who was a member of two NCAA championship teams in 2005 and 2007 – was a natural fit for the job to help Ellis with the choreography. He was also familiar with playing against Native Americans as he grew up near the Onondaga Nation, less than 10 miles from Syracuse.
“I played numerous games on the reservation, and have friends that grew up there,” Koesterer said. “I was familiar with the people and the workings of the game.”
Early last summer, the production crew held the casting combine at the NCAA Championships, and recruited several former and current players as actors, stunt doubles and extras in the film.
“Once we had a good group of kids, I worked with Mark Ellis to take the scripts and turn them into Xs and Os on paper to make the story come alive on the field,” Koesterer said.
The cast trained and filmed last summer and right before they were getting ready to shoot Koesterer’s role in production unexpectedly evolved.
“I was teaching the players what they had to do for the camera, and there were a couple days when I got really heated and mad and started yelling, and was acting a little bit more like a coach than what they had hired me for,” Koesterer said. “The director pulled me off the field. I thought I was going to get tossed. Instead, he said he might have a part for me and asked if I’d mind reading.”
Koesterer, who had zero acting experience, was cast as Emmitt Davis, the coach of the rival prep school team in the movie.
“The role is somewhat natural because I do coach lacrosse and a lot of those emotions are natural,” Koesterer said. “The only difference was I had to do it somewhat on command. A lot of my scenes were filmed later in the day, so I was stressed out and pissed off and that helped generate that kind of emotion. They just said ‘go’ and I started yelling.”
While Koesterer isn’t thinking about running off to Hollywood to change careers just yet, he is thrilled about getting the sport more publicity.
“All I can hope for is that it helps grow the game and gives it national exposure,” Koesterer said. “Media-wise, we’re on television and have a magazine and websites — I think the only thing we were really missing was a movie.”
Koesterer is also hoping that the film will teach younger fans, and people new to the sport, about the Native American origins of the sport.
“A lot of kids nowadays don’t know how the game started … they think it started on ESPN, or at an all-white preparatory school in New England,” Koesterer said. “They have no idea that lacrosse was played hundreds of years ago in Oklahoma by Native American people.”
Crooked Arrows debuted in select theaters two weeks ago, and opens nationally in the U.S. and Canada on June 1.
“To see the film get to where it is at this point is incredible,” Koesterer said. “I had no idea. The reviews have been good about the lacrosse have been good. The lacrosse is real and authentic.”