Locally published ‘The Miracle Season’ hits big screen
By John Kemmeter
A book published by a Stevens Point company tells the true story that was the inspiration for a major motion picture released last weekend.
The film “The Miracle Season” stars Academy Award winners Helen Hunt and William Hurt, and is based on the events detailed in the book “The Miracle Season,” which was written by former Iowa City West High School volleyball head coach Kathy Bresnahan and published by KCI Sports Publishing of Stevens Point Feb. 18.
The book chronicles the 2011 season of the defending State Champion West High volleyball team, which was forced to deal with the tragic early-season death of All-State senior setter Caroline “Line” Found in an accident on the way to visit her terminally ill mother, as the team looked to make an improbable run to a second consecutive State Title.
“Kathy wanted to honor not only Caroline, but this team in the best way, and have their voice tell the story,” said Peter Clark, owner of KCI Sports Publishing. “And that’s what the book is; it’s from the perspective of the coach and the team.”
“Winning any games was so irrelevant to us as coaches, our whole goal was, ‘we’ve got to get our kids through this,’” said Bresnahan. “‘However we can do it, we have to get them through each day.’ And it was a really tenuous hold on their grief at all times.
“But they were so resolute, these 16- and 17-year old kids, that they had to do this for her,” she said. “As a coach, I felt an enormous responsibility, because I thought, ‘how the heck am I even going to get them to that point that they’re competitive at a state level?’ I just didn’t see how it was even possible for them to have this goal that they had to win it all for her. Because that was Caroline’s goal going into the season.”
A native of Dickeyville in southwest Wisconsin and a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where she is a member of its Athletic Hall of Fame, Bresnahan was the head coach of the West High volleyball team in Iowa City, Iowa, from 1987 through 2000, and again from 2005 through 2013.
She guided West High to its first ever State Championship in 2010, and the team had its sights set on contending for a State Title again in 2011, led by senior captain Found.
“You would just start laughing when she came in the room, because she just had this huge smile that enveloped everybody that was around her,” said Bresnahan of Found. “She was one of those rare individuals that absolutely loves life and everything it has to offer.
“And then as a teacher, what I really appreciated about her was that she was so inclusive,” she said. “She really wanted every kid in school, which is impossible in a school of 2,000, but her goal was, she wanted every kid to feel special.”
During the first week of practice in her senior season of volleyball, Found was killed in a moped accident while on the way to see her terminally ill mother in the hospital.
Just 11 days later, Found’s mother Ellyn died of pancreatic cancer, and the book “The Miracle Season” details how her father Ernie and the team tried to move forward and “Live Like Line,” with Bresnahan providing a first-hand account.
“All parents and coaches, when you’re dealing with young people you love tremendously, your heart just breaks for them,” said Bresnahan. “I would just go home and cry because I felt so bad for the pain they were going through, and there was a few times that I had breakdowns that I talk about in the book, and I just had to send the kids home and I went in the locker room and cried.
“For all of us, adults and kids, the message I think from that whole season was, ‘that no matter what, in our darkest days, we can find something to pull us through,’” she said. “Rely on the relationships, rely on the people that care about us, and we can do anything.”
Following the 2011 season, Bresnahan wrote a letter to national sportswriter and commentator Frank Deford to share the story of the team and the Found family, without having a set address for Deford, other than at the Time Warner building in New York.
Deford ended up receiving the letter and decided to produce a segment on the story for HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” which aired in October 2012, and led to interest from Hollywood production companies to develop the story into a major motion picture.
“The odds of that letter getting to him are one in a million,” said Clark. “And not only does it get to him, he reads it and responds. It’s unbelievable.
“It’s literally like somebody up above was guiding this whole thing,” he said. “When you just listen to the story, it’s hard not to think, ‘something’s helping out here.’”
Along the way, Bresnahan decided to write a book about the season, as she relied on notes that she took after every night of practice.
“Other years, I would write about drills and say what went well and what didn’t, and each year I would go back and look at some of those,” said Bresnahan. “That season, I have one normal week of practice notes, and then the accident occurred, so then I went home that night and just started writing each night in my coaching notebook about emotions we were going through and what was happening, how the kids were reacting.
“And when I knew that others were talking about writing a book, I was able to go back to these notes, and I talked to my girls and said, ‘do you want our story to be told?’” she said. “They had to be OK with it too, because it’s not my story, it’s really my players’ story and the community’s story.”
The book took more than four years to write, and during the process, a friend of Bresnahan’s read a review in an Iowa newspaper of the 2014 book “The Animal Keepers” by Stevens Point Area Senior High School (SPASH) boys cross country coach Donn Behnke, which was published by KCI Sports Publishing.
“(My friend) said, ‘you’ve got to get a hold of this guy, he sounds like your kind of publisher,’ because I hadn’t really done much yet,” said Bresnahan. “And I wrote Peter, and it was a match made in heaven.”
“She sent a blind email to us, just asking if we’d have interest in the story, and shared a little bit about it,” said Clark. “And it took me like six seconds to say yes.
“We got to know each other and put this book together over a couple of years,” he said. “She had begun writing and had kind of a rough draft, and then we had an editor we brought in from Charlotte to work with her. Kathy will tell you, she’s a coach, she’s not a writer, and for anyone who has attempted to write a book, it’s not an easy process. And she was great from the point of taking suggestions and working with the editor to make it the best it could be.”
The release date for the book was delayed a couple of times in order to take advantage of the movie promotion, with its official publication date February 18, while the film opened Friday, April 6, with Hunt starring as Bresnahan and Hurt as Ernie Found.
“I would say that anybody that’s just going to see the movie and not read the book, don’t do that, because we almost feel like it’s two different stories,” said Bresnahan. “We have ‘The Miracle Season’ that we experienced, and then ‘The Miracle Season’ that Hollywood portrayed, and we feel like the story in the book is much more in depth.
“It’s awful hard to capture what happened in three months, in just an hour-and-a-half movie,” she said. “It’s a story that should appeal to all age groups, and all people.”
Bresnahan has a cameo in the movie, and as part of her press tour over the last couple of months, she appeared with Hunt on an episode of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that airs Thursday, April 12.
Meanwhile, she continues to teach ninth grade health education in Iowa City.
“It’s almost like an alternate-reality kind of thing going on,” said Bresnahan. “You see our life going on right now on the big screen, and it’s just so surreal.
“I’m a pretty low-key Wisconsin girl that likes hanging out at home with my dogs,” she said. “But when I see the reaction of young girls and kids to this movie, and that they’re going to have these exceptional role models, to me that makes everything worthwhile.”
Part of the proceeds from the book will go to the Live Like Line Foundation, which awards money to kids who have a financial need to feel included, whether they can’t afford to participate in an activity such as an AP exam, or attend an art camp.
Meanwhile, Bresnahan said that Found would have been all for being the subject of a big screen movie.
“She just loved the sport of volleyball, so one, the fact that we have a movie being made about volleyball for the first time, about high school women athletes, and that she was the star, oh my god, she would’ve just loved that,” said Bresnahan. “And I’m sure she is loving that.
“She impacted everybody she met, thousands of people I would venture to guess, and I think it’s so incredible that now, the kind of person she was and what she represented is going to be out there for millions of people,” she said. “This will keep her legacy alive, and we’re all extremely proud of what that team was able to accomplish that year.
“And I feel good that people are going to remember Caroline Found,” she said. “Because she’s one to remember.”