It’s an idea Lake Stevens High School wrestling coach Brent Barnes has had for some time. He knew how hard his wrestlers worked. Those around the program knew how hard. Maybe others would be interested in seeing it too.
Soon, others may find out just what goes into a wrestling program that ha
s won seven state titles since 1990.
A film crew has been following the Vikings this season, picking up footage that Barnes said will be turned into a 1- to 2-hour documentary to air on MTV.
“We were just looking for a way to show a subculture that I don’t think a lot of people know about,” Barnes said. “The kids work really hard, they sacrifice a lot, there’s compelling stories, they have to balance a lot in their lives. It’s something we’re proud of that we think is cool and we wanted people to see that.”
Barnes originally conceived the idea with one of his former wrestlers, Chris Pratt, who has gone on to acting fame, appearing currently in “Parks and Recreation” on NBC after roles in “The OC” and “Everwood” as well as movies like “Wanted,” “Bride Wars” and “Jennifer’s Body.”
“We know Chris, we have a good relationship with him, we coached him, had him in class and spent time with him,” Barnes said. “The reason he wanted to do it was because of his great experience with Lake Stevens wrestling, how it affected his life, how it helped him become a man. Now he has the resources to help make it happen and that’s exciting for all of us.”
Pratt approached a production company – Tollin/Robbins Productions – that has produced a number of sports movies and documentaries, including “Radio,” “Coach Carter” and “The Bronx is Burning.” The company agreed to send a film crew to follow the team throughout the season and try to sell the product. Originally they approached ESPN, which turned it down because it had already done a similar project, but MTV was interested. The production company hired Fred Golding, a director/producer/writer with experience doing sports films, to head the project.
So is there any concern that a network that has developed such shows as “16-And-Pregnant” and “Jackass” would be the one showcasing his program?
“It does make people nervous, no doubt about it,” Barnes said. “I wouldn’t be an educator if it didn’t make me nervous. It’s tough to not have total control over this. You have to be vigilant about what’s taking place within the program but you wonder what’s taking place on camera when they’re outside of school. And anytime something is on film, it’s on film forever. But these guys are pros, they get it, they’ve been very respectful and so you just have to trust that they’re going to treat you fairly. But sure, there’s definite concern.”
A camera crew has been documenting the program from preseason practices, through meets, as well as following the athletes to class and away from school. The crew will stay with the program through the end of the season.
The production had to receive the OK from the Lake Stevens School District as well as Lake Stevens principal Ken Collins, and everyone filmed, including opponents, have to sign releases. Barnes said none of his athletes opted not to be a part of the production, but getting the idea pushed through wasn’t simple.
“There’s a lot of issues that you have to go through,” he said. “It’s a daunting task. You have to make sure everything is accounted for. Everything has to be on the up-and-up and it takes a lot of work and vigilance. But our principal understood that this process could be a really cool thing for people to see and could be pretty enlightening. What we didn’t want was it to be an exploitation of the kids, and it hasn’t been.”
Barnes said another concern was how his athletes would react to having a camera around them. Would it make them nervous? Would it make them play to the camera? How big of a distraction would it be?
“It’s been amazing, I thought they would act differently and play to the camera, at least at the beginning,” Barnes said. “But they’ve been great about it. It’s tough to be natural when there’s a camera 2 inches from your face, or when a filmer asks how you’re doing a minute before a big match. That’s tough to handle. But they’ve gotten used to it. And the filmmakers want this to be real. If the kids weren’t being real, they’d pull the plug on it because it wouldn’t work. This isn’t going to be contrived at all.”
The Lake Stevens wrestlers, who once again are a state-title favorite, seem to echo those thoughts.
“It was weird at first, but you just get used to it, I don’t even notice them anymore,” Cody Schlosser said. “We just do our thing and don’t really worry about it.”
“We were excited when we heard about it,” Jack Reeves added. “At the beginning you noticed it a lot more, now you don’t really. We’re focused on what we’re doing more than the cameras.”
Barnes said he may set up some rules about access as the state tournament draws near in order to keep his team focused. There isn’t a date set yet on when the program will air, and he’s as interested as anyone to see what the final product is. Barnes will have no say in how the show is edited, which makes him both nervous and excited.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “I hope at a minimum we can have a great premier in our community and have a fund-raiser for the school. Just have a really special night where everyone in the community can see what this program and this school is about. It should be fun.”