Local reaction to MLK High School football doc shows real life played better than Hollywood

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Football players from arch-rival high schools must play on the same team after school district finances force it to downsize. The merged team goes on to win the school’s first-ever public-league title.

Sounds like a Hollywood script, right?

Except, it happened for real in Philadelphia, and it’s documented in a new film about merging Germantown High School and Martin Luther King High School.

The Cougars’ fairy-tale season kicked off with a big, unanswered question: How would students from rival neighborhoods and rival schools come together without incident at an already struggling school?

Martin Luther King High School principal William Wade says the community had every right to be concerned.

“Some really bad things happened at Martin Luther King, ranging from instances in the classrooms with teachers; there was a death in front of the school; low performance academically; and instructional staff that was frozen,” Wade said.

The film “We Could Be King” explores the school’s growing pains through the lens of the underdog football team and its fiery first-year head coach Ed Dunn. 

Dunn says hope was the glue that helped the team succeed. “We weren’t supposed to do what we were able to accomplish,” he said, “and it just gives people a little bit of extra hope that — ‘Hey, I might not come from the best background, I might not have everything that everyone else has, but that’s not an excuse to not be successful.'”

Junior safety Sal Henderson says the team’s family atmosphere made it work. “When you’re a family, you can read people’s minds,” he said. “You know what they’re thinking, and that’s how it has to be.”

It all led to a season that students and staff won’t soon forget. And one heck of a storyline for director Judd Ehrlich and his Brooklyn-based film crew.

Star defensive tackle Dontae Angus, one of the documentary’s main subjects, says he nearly cried after watching the movie.

Early on, Angus struggled with his teammates and to stay academically eligible for college squads.

“It was a rough year,” Angus said. “I got to meet some new people. Some of the people, they now my brothers, they now my family, and they’re always going to be in my heart.”

The team was on hand Wednesday night when “We Could Be King” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival. It airs nationally on ESPN 2 Saturday.

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