The Akron Holy War

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
The Akron Holy War Movie Poster Image
High school football rivalry docu has mild profanity.
  • PG
  • 2017
  • 95 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The importance of community and tradition. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Beloved coaches, players, parents, and students talk of what the rivalry between two Catholic high school football teams has meant to them. Some mentions of good sportsmanship, but nothing that really stands out. 

Violence
Sex
Language

Infrequent profanity, usually shouted by coaches, sometimes players: "pissed," "asses," "damn." 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some of the testimonials take place inside a bar. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Akron Holy War is a 2017 documentary about the legendary rivalry between two Akron Catholic high school football teams. While much is made of how this rivalry is "different" from other sports rivalries, and there's some footage of LeBron James as a teenager playing for one of the teams, it's hard to imagine anyone outside of northeast Ohio finding anything particularly engaging, even for the most obsessive of football fans. The history of the rivalry is told from its inception to the present day, with coaches, players, parents, and students from the past and present talking about the different games, their memories, and the unique rituals and traditions of the schools and community. (For the record, LeBron James is not one of the interview subjects providing his reflections on what the rivalry meant to him.) There's infrequent mild profanity, usually from coaches but sometimes from players. Overall, this sports documentary lacks the narrative depth and big-picture context that makes the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary series so interesting, even for many who aren't sports fans. It has the feel of a scrapbook in movie form -- a scrapbook that's only interesting to those who took part. 

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What's the story?

THE AKRON HOLY WAR presents the history and enduring legacy of the rivalry between two Catholic high school football teams in Akron, Ohio. Through photographs, highlight footage, and the recollections and testimonials of the coaches, players, parents, and students who have taken part, the rivalry between the St. Vincent/St. Mary Irish and the Archbishop Hoban Knights is shown to be passionate and intense and a reflection of the deep community bonds that drive the rivalry. Through traditions such as "Mum Day," costume themes in the days building up to the big game, and rowdy pep rallies, the depth and energy of the rivalry is revealed, showing why it has gained national prominence as a cut above other high school football rivalries. Besides the intensity, another claim to fame for this storied rivalry is that it was a part of the high school athletic career of LeBron James. Through the ups and downs of each school's fortunes both on and off the field, what emerges is a rivalry going back generations that ultimately reveals a love for their hometown of Akron, no matter which side the participants take. 

Is it any good?

This well-meaning sports documentary doesn't break any new ground. Besides being known as a hub for tire manufacturing in the 20th century and the hometown of the members of Devo, Akron, Ohio, is also known in some circles for a storied high school football rivalry. The Akron Holy War attempts to present the history of the rivalry between the Archbishop Hoban Knights and the St. Vincent/St. Mary Knights, the passion and intensity that drives the rivalry, and why this rivalry is different from the countless other high school football rivalries spanning the United States. Unfortunately, while this rivalry is clearly shown to mean a lot to the coaches, players, parents, and students who have taken part, the documentary fails at making this rivalry relevant for anyone living outside of northeastern Ohio.

One of the problems is that it's redundant. Basically, most of the movie is an endless succession of low-quality home video or sportscasts from old games paired with the recollections of the kinds of middle-aged guys who populate neighborhood bars throughout America and who are a little too eager to relive past gridiron glory. Over and over again, the dozens of testimonials try really hard to sell the audience on the idea that this rivalry is in fact "special" and "different" from other high school rivalries, but the narrative doesn't dig deeply enough to accomplish that. Hearing and seeing yet another spiel about this or that game and what it meant just gets boring after a while. That said, while this is no doubt a nice scrapbook in movie form for those who are passionate about this rivalry, it's difficult to imagine anyone outside the region being interested.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about sports documentaries. How does The Akron Holy War compare with other sports documentaries you've seen? 

  • How did this documentary present the idea that the high school football rivalry shown in the movie is different from and more intense than other rivalries? After watching it, were you convinced that this rivalry was something "special"?

  • Did this documentary remind you of your own experiences with high school rivalries? How so?

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