Starting at the Finish Line
Documentary details Duke coach who was ‘ahead of his time’
The most compelling trait about Al Buehler is that he knows who he is, says Amy Unell. It’s why she has brought his story to the big screen – because she wants the rest of the world to know who he is, too.
Unell directed the documentary Starting at the Finish Line: The Coach Buehler Story, a project borne from her abiding admiration for Buehler, the longtime Duke track coach and educator. The documentary premieres at 8 p.m. Friday at the Atlanta Film Festival. Unell, NBA all-star and former Duke standout Grant Hill and Buehler will be on hand for the event.
On the international stage, he has served on United States Olympic coaching staffs at the 1972, ’84 and ’88 Games. But there is so much more to the man than that.
To Unell, Buehler’s character and the way he lives speak more than those accomplishments every will. She and Hill, the documentary’s executive producer and narrator, found out that when they took Buehler’s seminar, History and Issues of American Sports.
“When you sign up for a class, who really knows what you are going to get,” says Unell. “You had these choices for freshman seminar and his really stuck out to me.
“I was on the waiting list for his class. But I was thinking, ‘This guy’s special.’ And you know how it is when some people get in and drop the class after the first session. I went up to him and told him I really want to take your class. He looked at me and said, ‘This is your lucky day.’ ”
Buehler taught Unell, a former producer for the Today Show, and 14 other students in his office in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Along the walls of the office were photos that helped tell Buehler’s story – that of a man who helped integrate Duke and fought for racial and gender equality. And how he built into the lives of everyone around him not only to be better athletes, but better people.
|What||Atlanta Film Festival|
|When||8 p.m. May 6|
Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
“You could tell his passion and commitment to sports,” says Unell. “And being in his class was like history books come to life. He became a mentor to me during my time there at Duke. I would ask him about the photos, and you’d have to have to pull [stories] about them out of him because he’s very modest.”
Stories like his relationship with Dr. Leroy Walker, Buehler's best friend, and how, at the height of racial tensions in the segregated South, Duke’s track team practiced with Walker's all-black North Carolina Central squad – at Duke’s track at a time when its campus and bleachers above the track were segregated.
Stories like Buehler driving John Carlos and Tommie Smith to the airport after they were banned from the Olympic village after their podium protest at the 1968 Mexico City games. And his starting the women’s track program at Duke.
“He was ahead of his time in so many ways,” says Unell. “He just believed in doing the right thing as a priority.
“He was very consistent. He was like that because he knows who he is. That’s what was so amazing about him, his authenticity. He was very truthful to who he is. He had a saying. It was Latin: Esse Quam Videri, which meant to be rather than to seem. He challenged us to be who we really are.”
That creed has impacted the lives of those he has touched long after they left his class. Now in his 56th year as an instructor, he is still having a profound effect on student.
“I still continue to learn from him,” says Unell. “It was amazing what he’s done and was amazing that no one had told his story. It’s one that I think everyone needs to see.”
• Official website: Starting at the Finish Line: The Coach Buehler Story