Running and Life, A Meeting With McFarland USA Coach Jim White


“Do It Anyway” Coach Jim White quoted a few lines from Mother Teresa’s inspiring poem during his morning devotional and motivational talk on the 2016 edition of the KLove cruise.  Coach White talked for 45 minutes sharing his thoughts on life and behind the scene details from the hit Disney movie McFarland USA (2015).  Mr. White also discussed how following his core beliefs, work ethics and his coaching instincts lead him while developing a cross country program to guiding his teams to Nine California state cross country championships.

Sitting down in the front row of an expansive theater with my wife, Michele, we listened to Coach White intently.  To be honest I wanted to hear his story of faith and equally I wanted to gain some of his insight on running and training.  I wanted to be a better man and a better runner.  I left with an improved insight on life.

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

Coach reasoned that he believed a key to his and the team success was grounded on that he viewed the members of his cross country team as more than just runners.  In White’s eyes the boys were more than a simple means  to an end and more than a group of troubled teenage boys in a depressed community.  Although coming from the other side of the tracks, Jim saw and respected each runner, each student and each family as unique and valuable people.  In suit he treated them that way, he got to know them, their families, their culture and their struggles.  Some within the school district and community at large questioned his motives, questioned his thought process on building up the person first and his team second.  He did it anyway.

The movie McFarland USA depicts the success of his team and their championship season of 1987 perfectly with a gripping and captivating storyline.  Although coach related that “there are some “Hollywood” additions to the story to make it more appealing on a wider scale.”  I’ll cover more on that subject later in this post.

“If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.”

With the success of the McFarland team the community gained allot of positive attention the team also gained some opposition, Mr. White explained.  As the nine championships began to add up the surrounding school districts, many with much larger populations and talent pools, wanted the much smaller school of McFarland to compete at a higher divisional ranking then their admission numbers supported.  Coach White could not stop this un-leveling of the field, so the McFarland cross country team won more championships anyway.

“What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
– Build anyway.”

Coach Jim taught in the McFarland school district as a Life Science and Physical Education teacher  for 40 years, at the middle school but never at the high school as the movie portrayed.  Jim explained that was a little bit of the “Hollywood additions.” He reasoned it seemed more natural to the story line for him to be a high school teacher.  Many would think with his success with the cross country and his students rising success in the classroom that everyone would have wanted him to continue within the school system.  Coach White related that even with the success of the team some could not wait for him to retire.  Jim explained that some within the political education system were intimidated with his standing and influence within the school board.  Coach explain that most members on the school board he had in his classes.  Coach White ignored these motives and built a program of success that continues to thrive even after his eventual retirement.

Mother Teresa’s Anyway Poem

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Coach White worked into his allotted time his perceptions of Hollywood film making and the road that brought McFarland USA to the big screen.

**  The McFarland story was acquired by two other film making companies before Disney purchased the film rights (twice).  Both companies prior to Disney did nothing towards developing the story/film.  Their contracts eventually expired.

**  Disney purchased the rights, including book and speaking rights and developed the first screenplay at a cost of nearly $500,000.  Executives eventually “trashed” the story.  Following this initial dead-end, some Disney executives were still compelled with the McFarland story so much that they again purchased the rights for a second time and offered the feature role to Kevin Costner. At Costner’s request they developed the present storyline.  This storyline Costner believed was more in line with the accurate reporting on the team’s success as presented by CNN, BBC, and ESPN.

**  White never coached football, was never fired from a job nor taught at the high school.

**  Jim still maintains contact with many of his students and alumni runners of his cross country teams.

** There are three White daughters not two as portrayed in the movie.


After Coach concluded his talk I got to spend a few minutes with him.  While talking with Coach White, I was able to share with him some of my running adventures as well as ask him a few questions about his running program.  Mr. White shared with me that Danny Diaz, one of the original McFarland runners is preparing to run the Badwater Ultra Marathon.  During our discussion I thanked him for investing in his students, for opening doors for his runners and for showing them what they could do, compared with coaches I had in Junior High School who told me what I could not do.

Have you seen McFarland USA?

What are your thoughts on this story?

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