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Football as family

Documenting the 2015 Wagoner high school football season

Wagoner Bulldogs celebrating their 2015 high school football state championship win

The working title is “Fathers of Football,” but the upcoming documentary by filmmaker Bradley Beesley (“Okie Noodling,” “The Fearless Freaks,” and “Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo”) is about far more than just sports.

Centered in Wagoner, about 40 miles southeast of downtown Tulsa, the film follows the town’s high school football team—the Bulldogs—through the 2015 season. It focuses primarily on head coach Dale Condict and his son, Austin, a player on the team who was recovering from testicular cancer and trying to get back on the field.

“There are several coaches on the team that have sons playing for them,” Beesley said of the title. “But also, it’s a reference to the fact that some of the kids on the team are growing up, and have grown up, without their dads being involved in their lives. And perhaps football is a surrogate for the fathers, and the structure of the team is that of a family.”

Beesley recently raised over $29,000 on kickstarter.com to fund the completion of the project, including editing and sound production. He hopes to finish the film over the next month in time to submit it to South by Southwest Film Festival in March. Once it’s made the festival circuit, it will have a Tulsa premiere.

Now based in Austin, Beesley grew up in Oklahoma City and played high school football for his father, a coach, at Piedmont High School for a couple of years.

In addition to the Condict family, the film also follows receivers A.J. Freeth and Chris Murray, each of whom struggled with their grades, trying to remain academically eligible for Division I colleges.

Not to ruin the suspense, but the 2015 Bulldogs ended up going undefeated, completing the year 14-0, and winning their second straight Class 4A state championship—though the film isn’t really about that, either.

“Like a lot of my documentaries, it’s character-driven, which means it doesn’t have to be about football,” said Beesley, who originally wanted to turn the footage into a TV series. “It’s more about their interpersonal stories and struggles.”

Beesley also noted that some key crew members and producers were from Tulsa.

Wagoner won the state title again in 2016 and is undefeated through five games in 2017. Clearly, as the film demonstrates, high school football is a big part of that community and the team’s success is a source of much local pride.

“I was looking for a small town, because I didn’t want to do a story about Jenks or Union, and I wanted there to be a broad social demographic,” said Beesley. “This is just a project that has been stewing—that I’ve been thinking about for years.”

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