Focus lands on Madison Park

New film follows basketball team

By Anthony Gulizia
Globe Correspondent / February 28, 2011

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Flash back to four years ago. Coach Dennis Wilson and the 19-0 Madison Park Cardinals are destined for basketball greatness. The team is the top seed heading into the state tournament, but a slew of interior problems are festering and dissolving the team chemistry.

“Every week, there was always something going on,’’ Wilson said. “One of my players’ mothers was beaten up by a boyfriend who was an ex-boxer. There were constant social problems — whether they would be stemming from the community, a friend, or a cousin. And neighbors were shot and stabbed.’’

The biggest problem involved captain Raheem “Radio’’ Singleton and Malik Smith, who represented rivalry neighborhoods — the Heath Street and Academy project homes. Each party felt the other was getting too much publicity, which resulted in the selfish play of two star athletes and compromised the strength of the team.

Meanwhile, Boston-area filmmaker Rudy Hypolite, who was captivated by Wilson’s relationship with the athletes behind the scenes, captured the roller coaster season that ultimately fell short of its goal and turned it into a documentary, “Push: Madison versus Madison.’’

“The team was No. 1 and was a great team — very talented,’’ said Hypolite, who has known Wilson for nearly two decades. “In my mind, I said, ‘Wow, I’d love to capture that journey whether they go all the way or not. Dennis is also a history teacher, so I wanted to capture the sense of what was happening in the school system. It was a great way of telling the story about the challenges that teachers and these kids deal with, the backgrounds they come from.’’

The documentary was one of 100 films selected from 2,500 entries to air at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, Calif., which begins tomorrow and runs through March 13.

Hypolite praised his supporting cast, including cinematographer Mike Pecci, writer Ian McFarland, and musician Malik Williams, who developed a soundtrack solely for the film.

The 25-year coach said that the purpose of the documentary wasn’t just to capture the struggles at Madison Park, but to show troubled athletes across the country that they can make it, and to not give up.

Wilson hopes that players will end up like Singleton, who is now the starting point guard at the University of Maine.

“I want to inspire coaches like myself, teachers like myself, and kids that are going through what my kids are going through, that they can make it,’’ said Wilson, whose current team opens tournament play Thursday against Franklin. “You got to be strong and you got to persevere. Is everyone going to make it? No, and that’s the sad reality. But if the word gets out, the kid who’s thinking about giving up won’t give up, because he knows I can make it like [Singleton].’’

However, it’s not just the success on the court that motivates Wilson to help students. He also sees himself as a mentor and a resource to students who look up to him in a time of need.

But even with the success of some athletes, Hypolite and Wilson believe it is not enough. Hypolite said that the purpose of the documentary is to reach out to the inner cities and help restore values, morals, and an appreciation for life.

“Outside of [the success], do we keep leaving the system like it is?’’ Hypolite said. “Life isn’t valued anymore. And even with someone like Dennis, who’s a mentor and a father figure, it’s not enough — the neighborhoods have changed. There are no programs like math teams and book clubs to help these kids, and that makes it so much harder to combat these circumstances.

“We want this documentary to serve as an insight to the inner city, and show that something needs to be done.’’

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