The Miracle Season: Talking Volleyball, Inspiration and the New Movie with Kathy Bresnahan and Helen Hunt

Every day someone in the world fights a battle and needs to find the inspiration to carry on.  In The Miracle Season, a new movie out Friday, as well as a book already out, Caroline “Line” Found and her family faced a tough struggle. Line's mom has cancer. Caroline is the captain of the West High volleyball team and she tries to only focus on the good things in her life, like the fact that West High had won states the year before. But when Caroline dies in an accident on the way to visiting her mom in the hospital, the volleyball team also faces a battle of their own.  At first, her death causes the light in her family, her coach, and her team to die out. Eventually, they all are inspired by Caroline.

The Miracle Season is one of those movies that holds your attention even if you know the story.  Despite the sad things that happen in the movie, there is a clear and hopeful message: live joyfully. And that message is present throughout the entire film. The main characters each bring something unique to the story.  Caroline is joyful, energetic, and friendly. Kathy "Coach Bres" Bresnahan told SI Kids, "It was funny because you could ask forty different people and they would all say, 'Caroline was my best friend.’" As for Coach Bres’s character, the actress Helen Hunt told SI Kids that she tried to show Coach Bres’s "sense of humor, her love of these girls, and her shyness" on screen. Coach Bres acts as if she has to be strong for the team or else the team will fall apart. She tells her team, “We’re all hurtin’, but here you can take that hurt and apply it to the game you love to play.  What do you say? No time like right now.  Let’s go.” Still, the team lost the joy of playing.  Towards the end, Coach Bres helped them find that joy.  Caroline's father, Ernie, is soft in contrast to Coach Bres. He appreciates the volleyball team’s efforts to “win for Line”. After Line’s death, he is a key part to the team’s success. Taylor, the only freshman on the team, was the only one who could express what everyone else on the team was feeling after Line died. They didn’t want to make a mistake and lose for Caroline. Caroline’s best friend, Kelly, relied on Line to bring out her inner strength. Her close friendship with Line helps her to lead the team after Line’s death. Everyone handled their loss loss differently but all came together to celebrate not just Line’s life, but life in general.

Overall, The Miracle Season is a phenomenal movie.  The acting was believable. And Caroline shows us all how to “Live Like Line:” joyfully and energetically.  Every scene holds your attention to the very end, and this movie could be watched several times without losing intensity.

SI Kids had the opportunity to interview Helen Hunt and Coach Bres, and both spoke about the story, telling it through film and how to "Live Like Line."

Was it challenging to play a real person? If so, what was the hardest part?

Helen Hunt: It was awesome to play a real person because whenever you take on a part, you’re looking for how should that person dress, how should they walk, and what do they like to be around, and what makes them laugh.

Did you read the book written by Coach Bres and did that impact how you interpreted her character in the movie?

Yes I did read it, early on when it wasn’t even quite finished yet and it did help me. It helped me imagine what it would be like to walk into practice that first day and see those girls going through such a hard thing and how to be with them.

Which characteristics or qualities of Coach Bres did you think were most important to portray?

Her sense of humor, her love of these girls, her shyness, the way she didn’t really know what to say to Ernie or how to go to a party or be a social person. I would say those three were probably the top three.

What lessons did you learn from the story?

Well, I learned that even when things are very hard you can look for where the fun is and if you can’t find it, you can do the right thing, you can act "as if" until you feel it underneath. Those were two really good lessons for me.

Did you get to meet any of the other people portrayed in the movie like Ernie before filming? If so, what kind of impact did that have on the role you played?

Yeah, the other person I met was Ernie and that was once we had started filming and I don’t know what impact it had on the playing of the part but it made the impression on me. To stand next to someone who’s been through so much was a hard thing. It really reminds you how precious life is.

Anything else you’d like to share with Sports Illustrated Kids?

Well, just that I think seeing this movie is gonna pick up people’s day and it’s a great example of how a community of people can come together and get through something hard.

Why did you decide to retire so soon after the back-to-back victories as coach in 2010 and 2011? 

Kathy Bresnahan: You know, that 2011 season was really hard on me emotionally and I didn’t feel like I had a lot more but I did stay two more years until we had a really good team coming back. That 2011 season kind of wiped me out. I didn’t have a lot more to give.

Why do you feel like it was so important to tell this story and what do you think is most important for people to know about Caroline and the team’s story?

Two things. I thought it was important that we keep her memory alive because she was one of those people in school that made everybody her friend and it didn’t matter, you could be very poor, a different skin color, a different religion, or you might have autism, or have these special needs and have Down syndrome—she was still gonna be your best friend and she made everybody feel like that. So when you have somebody like that who’s so special, you wanna try to keep those qualities alive even if they’re not.

So was she a role model?

Yes, absolutely she was a role model even for us adults. She made someone a better person when she was around you because she had a big smile and she loved life, she loved volleyball, she loved being a strong female athlete, and she liked making people happy. She did that really well. It was funny because you could ask forty different people and they would all say, 'Caroline was my best friend.' And you know you can only really have one best friend but a lot of people would have said she was their best friend. Why did I think it was important to tell the story? I think because I was so gosh darn proud of how strong my girls were and how special they were that I wanted to tell the world about ‘em and we agreed to do the movie after a couple years. We agreed to it because we felt that this was a story about hope when everything seems at its worst, it was a story that we wanted young woman to see and say, 'Hey, it’s okay to be an athlete, it’s okay to be a girl, you can be strong, you can set goals and achieve them.'

Do you feel like the movie brought the players to life and do you feel like you were watching your team play?

You know, they changed up who we were a little bit. So, Kelly didn’t really have a boyfriend in real life so Hollywood changed it a little bit. Dr. Found, Caroline’s dad, went to all the games and in the movie, so they did add that kind of drama and I wasn’t as mean in real life as it made me seem in the movie, I really loved those girls an awful lot and I still do, but they really brought forth the message of how close we were and how determined we were, and how strong they were. It was not easy for them to practice each day without their best friend there. There was no hiding our emotions with people. I would cry in front of my players and they would cry in front of me and we’d comfort each other.

Do you keep in touch with any of the players from the team and how are they doing?

They’re doing great. We get together, one’s an officer in the military, she went to West Point, so she’s in the army, she’s an officer in Germany and she came back for the premiere. We get together every Christmas, all of us, we have done that every year since Caroline died. We stay in touch on a weekly basis even now.

So you became super close with those players?

They are the light of my life. They make me feel so good and so proud of what we shared together.

What messages were you trying to portray when you were writing the book?

Oh, the grief is really raw and hard, and I think that there’s no right way to deal with grief. All my players dealt with it differently. I was trying to show in the book that some would goof around all the time and try to take Caroline’s spot and some would be very angry. So I guess the one message is that how you choose to express your grief is okay and we need to know that we’re all different in that respect. I think the other message would be: even when things seem the darkest and when things seem impossible, we can still do amazing things even when our hearts are broken.

What do you think Caroline would have thought about the story being told?

I think she would have been right there in front of the camera doing cartwheels and hugging everybody and saying, “Welcome to my world.” I mean she just truly enjoyed living. She enjoyed everything about being around people and if it was me that had passed on in an accident, I would’ve hoped that she would have gone on and tried to make a movie. Do something and say, “Hey, we can do this.” So I think she would approve. In fact, I know she would’ve. 

What did that moment itself feel like in the season when you won that back-to-back victory? What were the hardest moments?

The moment that ball hit the line because in the movie they just showed City High missing one serve but they missed many serves that would have won the state championship. My heart would have been broken for my players, had they not won that. So when that ball hit that line and I knew we won, I could only just collapse to the floor. Even if I don’t remember doing it, I collapsed to the floor with relief and joy for my players because I knew how much pressure they felt. There were so many, the hardest one, I think going to the funeral was the hardest moment of the entire season and seeing her mom come by ambulance and coming into the funeral and having to come into the wheelchair and seeing that remarkable woman get up on her own two feet and walk out to honor her daughter on her own and refuse the wheelchair. That was the last time she walked. That was the hardest thing. Seeing her mom at the funeral and knowing that her mom only had a short time to live.

Anything else you’d like to share with Sports Illustrated Kids?

I would just tell kids to try to live like Line and be a good friend and smile as much as possible.

Photographs: ​Cate Cameron, courtesy of LD Entertainment (3)

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